OK. I'll get to the point. My fantasy is to start a movement for indigenous Middle Eastern independence from Arab occupation by focusing on the indigenous and historical aspects of the Middle East, with particular attention to Israel (cuz after all, I am Jewish). So unless it is absolutely important, no Arab will be mentioned. Sorry Arabs but you don't count.
The city of Beersheba is the largest city in the southern Negev region of Israel, with a population of over 200,000. It has acted as the “capital” of the Negev for decades. Awarded to the prospective Arab state in 1947, it was recaptured by Israel following attacks from there by local Arabs as well as the Arab army of Egypt.
The history of Beersheba goes back to pre-Hebraic times but written records are first mentioned in Biblical sources. In the Book of Genesis, the site of Beersheba was recorded as being under the control of the Philistines. It was here that Abraham dug a well that was later violently taken away by the servants of Abimelech, king of the Philistines. Promised protection, Abraham and Abimelech made an oath with seven ewe lambs and the name of the place was henceforth called “Beersheba” (well of seven). Abraham’s son Isaac renewed the oath. For a time, it was the dwelling place of Isaac’s son Jacob, before his sojourn in Egypt.
After the conquest of Canaan by Joshua, Beersheba was allotted to the tribe of Shimon. It was the southernmost city settled by the Israelites, hence the expression "from Dan to Beersheba" which described the whole of Israelite territory from north to south.
The sons of the priest-judge Samuel were judges here.
Saul, Israel's first king, built a fort here for his campaign against the Amalekites.
During the period of the divided kingdom when Ahab ruled in the north and Asa ruled in the south, Beersheba was considered the gateway to the desert. The prophet Elijah, while escaping the wrath of Queen Jezebel, wife of King Ahab, took refuge in Beersheba before continuing on his journey to Mt. Horeb.
Under the Roman occupation, the native Israelites slowly abandoned the city and Christians, and later the Byzantine Christians, gradually took over. Then during the Muslim conquest in the 7th century,Beersheba was totally abandoned and destroyed. It remained abandoned until the late 19th/early 20th centuries when the modern city was built by the Ottoman Turks for the Bedouin of the area, acquiring the nickname as "the first Bedouin city." By 1914, Beersheba had a population of 1000, made up mostly of Bedouin and non-Bedouin Arabs from the Hebron and Gaza areas, as well as a small number of Jews one of whom, ran a flour mill.
In World War I, Turkish fortifications were laid out around the town and more settlers, including Jews, came and provided services to the Turkish army. In 1920, now under British rule, a few Jewish laborers planted a tree nursery and eucalyptus grove there and experimented with cultivating vegetables and other crops. In 1922, the population reached 2,356, among whom were 98 Jews. Due to the Arab riots in 1929 when many Jews were ethnically cleansed from various parts of Palestine including Beersheba, the number of Beersheba Jews decreased to 11. These last Jews were, as well, ethnically cleansed during the 1936–39 riots. In spite of this, efforts were intensified to purchase land for Jewish settlement in the Negev.
Following the conclusion of the War of Independence, the 1949 Armistice Agreements formally granted Beersheba to Israel. After a few months, the town's war-damaged houses were repaired. As a post-independence wave of Jewish immigration to Israel began, Beersheba experienced a population boom as thousands of immigrants moved in. They came mainly from North Africa, Iraq, India, Romania, Poland, Hungary, and South America. The city rapidly expanded beyond its core, which became known as the "Old City" as new neighborhoods were built around it, complete with various housing projects such as apartment buildings and houses with auxiliary farms, as well as shopping centers and schools. The Old City was turned into a city center, with shops, restaurants, and government and utility offices. An industrial area and one of the largest cinemas in Israel were also built in the city. It was also a communication center linking to the Lod-Kiryat Gat and Dimonah-Oron highways. A pumping station of the Eilat-Haifa oil pipeline was located there. Its largest industries (ceramics, sanitary ware, fire-resistant bricks, pesticides and other chemicals, and bromide compounds) exploited Negev minerals. There was also a large textile factory, flour mill, machine garage, and smaller plants for building materials, diamonds, metals, and other industries. The city had several academic, scientific, and cultural institutions. Among the first was the Municipal Museum. In 1957, the Negev Institute for Arid Zone Research was established, experimenting in water desalination by electrodialysis, exploitation of solar energy, cloud seeding, adaptation of plants to aridity, hydroponics, and human behavior under desert conditions. Other endeavors were: Soroka Hospital(opened in 1960), Ben Gurion University (originally the Institute for Higher Education which opened in 1965, becoming the University of the Negev in 1970, and finally its present name in 1973), the Beersheba Theater and the Symphony Orchestra (both 1973), Shamoon College of Engineering(1995), and the city's tallest building, Rambam Square 2, a 32-story apartment building (2003). The city also serves as a market center for the Negev's tens of thousands of Bedouin. The traditional Thursday, Bedouin market day, is a noted tourist attraction.
Other tourist attractions are the many sites of ancient remains including those at Tell el-Sheba, the most ancient site of Beersheba. In addition, a park, to be called Beit Eshel Park, will be established around the nearby Biblical town of Beit Eshel at the official entrance to the river park.
As with the rest of Israel, Beersheba has also seen its fair share of terrorist incidents. 1998: sixty four people were wounded in a grenade attack; 2004: sixteen people were killed in two suicide bombings on commuter buses in Beersheba for which Hamas claimed responsibility; 2005: another suicide bomber attacked the central bus station, seriously injuring two security guards and 45 bystanders; 12/27/2008-1/18/2009: During Operation Cast Lead, Hamas fired over 2000 rockets and mortars from Gaza into southern Israel, including Beersheba; 2010: an Arab attacked and injured two people with an axe; 2012: a Palestinian from Jenin was stopped before a stabbing attack in a "safe house"; 2015: a lone gunman shot and killed a soldier guarding the Beersheva bus station before being gunned down by police; 2016: the Shin Bet thwarted a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror attack at a wedding hall.
In Biblical times, the ancient territory of Bashan, which lies to the east of the Jordan, formed the bulk of the eastern half of the Israelite tribal territory of Menasheh. Today, about half of the territory consists of Israel’s Golan Heights with its “capital” being the revived ancient town of Qatzrin, and the other half in, what is today, the southern half of Arab-occupied Syria but with a large Druze population.
After the Biblical period, this area continued to contain an ancient Jewish community. In the 7th century, while various Arab clans migrated here, the indigenous Jews were joined by Jewish refugees from Khaibar in Arabia, who were expelled by Mohammed, especially the tribes of Kainuka and Wuld Ali, who settled among the native Jews in Edrei, which became a rabbinic center in the Middle Ages. Today, Edrei is known as Deraa, an Arab-occupied town in Arab-occupied southern Syria.
Around the same time, Bashan became home to groups a Druze and Circassians, who came in peace. In time, the Druze became the majority and several settlements including that of Majdal Shams, the ancient Migdal Shemesh, became their main population centers. During the 11thcentury, there was also a relatively large Jewish community in Banias. They were referred to a Baniasites who were frequently mentioned in the documents of the Cairo Geniza. Eventually, Babylonian Jews as well as a number of Karaites had also settled in Banias, causing the community to divide into Palestinians, Babylonians, and Karaites, who differed in their version of prayers. During the period of Crusader rule, in the early 12th century, the famous proselyte Obadiah the Norman passed through the town and wrote of a Karaite pseudo-messiah Solomon haKohen who would preach of the coming redemption. But in c. 1170, Benjamin of Tudela mentions no Jews at all and it is possible that the community ceased to exist by then. Later however, Banias was re-inhabited by Jews as were some of the other villages in the Bashan area.
By the early 14th century, Jews inhabited three main areas in Bashan – Banias, Edrei, and Salkhad, and questions arose as to whether these areas, as well as others immediately to the east of the Jordan, were halachically part of the Land of Israel. After constant debate, which lasted for over two centuries, during which time, the Jews of Edrei were forced to leave due to Arab depredations, it was decided in the affirmative, and the area was officially recognized as part of the Land of Israel. During the early Ottoman period, Banias still had a Jewish population as attested by a document from 1624 which mentions the murder of a Jewish physician, Elijah haKohen, by an Arab sheikh. During the 18th and 19thcenturies, Druze tribes from Lebanon migrated to the eastern part of Bashan and mainly concentrated in and around the mountain which eventually became known as Djebel Druze. It remains their stronghold til today.
By the 19thcentury, there were, once again, no Jews left in all of Bashan. It was in fact only sparsely inhabited and the land was largely uncultivated. In 1880, Laurence Oliphant published “Eretz haGilad” (The Land of Gilead), which described a plan for large-scale Jewish settlement in the Golan, but the Turks snubbed the scheme. In 1886, native born Jews from Safed formed the Bnei Yehuda Society and purchased 14,000 dunams of land near the Circassian village of Ramthaniya in the central Golan on which, they attempted to establish the village of Golan b’Bashan. But due to financial hardships and the long wait for a kushan (Ottoman land deed), the village was abandoned after a year. Soon afterwards, the Society regrouped and purchased land next to the Bedouin village of Bir Shaqum in the southern Golan. And thus, the village of Bnei Yehuda was established. Between 1891 and 1894, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild purchase nearly 30 sq. miles of land consisting of 16 villages in the eastern Bashan for Jewish settlement. Most of the land straddled both sides of the Nahr el Allan. Today, this land lies just a few miles from the 1967 lines, inside Syria where Jews are forbidden to live. Also in the 1890s, the Russian Agudat Achim Association acquired land in several locations in the districts of Fiq and Deraa and at Jillin where a farm was built and extensive eucalyptus groves were planted. Other tracts of land were acquired by Jewish organizations based in Romania, Bulgaria, the United States, and England, but Jewish settlement in the area remained slow and tenuous. Meanwhile, Jews had managed to build a road stretching from Lake Hulehto Muzayrib and by the mid-1890s most of the Golan had become owned and cultivated by a variety of peoples. A Jewish village called Tiferet Binyamin was set up on lands at Saham el-Jolan by the Shavei Zion Association based in New York, but the project was abandoned after a year when the Turks issued an edict in 1896 evicting the residents on the grounds that they were not Ottoman citizens. A later attempt to resettle the land with Syrian Jews who were Ottoman citizens also failed.
In 1899, the pasha of Damascus expelled the Jews from all of the Rothschild’s estates. Between 1904 and 1908, a group of Crimean Jews settled in the Bethsaida Valley, initially as tenants of a Kurdish proprietor with the prospects of purchasing the land, but the arrangement faltered and most of the Jewish settlements in the region were abandoned over time either due to Arab hostility and Turkish bureaucracy, diseases, or economic difficulties. Bnei Yehuda was the sole exception.
1920 witnessed the first of a series of Arab pogroms which raged throughout the country resulting the massacres and expulsions of Palestinian Jews whether they were immigrants or not. Bnei Yehuda was one such victim community following an Arab attack. But the land itself was still owned by Jews. Meanwhile, the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association obtained the deeds to the Rothschild lands and continued to manage it, collecting rents from the Arab peasants living there. In the 1920s, the British, who now occupied Palestine succeeding the Ottoman Empire after World War I, began a policy of dividing Palestine among Arab groups. In 1922, the Golan Heights were given over to the newly-formed Arab country of Syria, under French rule, and the rest of eastern Palestine was created into the Hashemite Arab Kingdom of Transjordan, under British rule. Western Palestine became more difficult to divide. Meanwhile, along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which remained part of western Palestine, Ein Gevand Shaar Hagolan were established in 1937. In 1947, the (largely Arab) Syrian Land Settlement Campaign refused to recognize the PJCA as the legal owner of any land in Syria, and the Syrian government confiscated it without compensation on the grounds that “it was contrary to Syrian policy to allow Jews to own land in Syria.”
In the late 1950s, the PJCA transferred the Golan/Syrian landholding to the Jewish National Fund. Today, the JNF still lay claim to the land. In the period between Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967, Syria occupied the Golan Heights and Syrian Arabs constantly harassed Israeli border communities by firing artillery shells from their dominant positions there. In October 1966 Israel brought the matter up before the United Nations. Five nations sponsored a resolution criticizing Syria for its actions but it failed to pass due to a Soviet veto. Aside from this little charade, the Israeli government refused to do anything about the situation. One of the laziest and pathetic of Israel’s officials, Golda Meir, summed up life in Israel’s border communities:
The Syrians seemed bent on an escalation of the conflict; they kept up an endless bombardment of Israeli settlements below the Golan Heights, and Israeli fishermen and farmers faced what was sometimes virtually daily attacks by snipers. I used to visit the settlements occasionally and watch the settlers go about their work as though there’s nothing at all unusual in plowing with a military escort or putting children to sleep – every single night – in underground air raid shelters.
In 1967, Israel uncharacteristically finally decided to do something. After the Six Day War broke out in June, Syria’s shelling greatly intensified. The war on the northern front ended when the Israeli army managed to reunite the Golan with the rest of Israel. Jewish re-settlement in the Golan began soon after the war with the establishment of Merom Golan the following month. By 1970 there were 12 such communities. Today, the area is well developed and consists of many sites: Mount Hermon, the highest point in Israel at around 9000 feet, its Ski Resort and Nature Reserve, the Hermon Stream Nature Reserve, the ruins of Gamla known as the Masada of the north, and its ancient synagogue, the Odem Forest, Nimrod Fortress National Park, the Banias Waterfalls, Hermonit Mountain Reserve, Avital Mountain Reserve, Qatzrin Forest and Park including an ancient synagogue, Nahal Mehsushim Nature Reserve, Betzaida Zachi Reserve, Jordan Park, Magrase Nature Reserve, Yarmouk Nature Reserve(today located in the Kingdom of Jordan) and the River of the same name which forms part of the border between Israel and Jordan, the ancient town of Hamat Gader and its ancient synagogue, al Quneitra(today in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria but under Syrian Arab control), and the ancient synagogues of En Nashut, Dabura, Dabiyye, Assaliyye, Zumeimira, Dikkeh, Kanaf, and Qanatir.
Balfour Forest, courtesy KKL-JNF, photo: Dennis Zin
In Biblical times, the area that is now the Balfour Forest in the hills west of Nazareth, as with the rest of the Land of Israel, was a well-wooded and well-farmed region and located in the tribal territory of Zvulun. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 and the consequent occupation and invasions of foreign empires – Arabs, Crusaders, Mameluke Egyptians, and Ottoman Turks, etc., and their havoc on the land, Israel gradually became denuded of any forestry whatsoever with the exception of a few small areas scattered throughout the country. It wasn’t until c. 1870 that Jews started to re-plant trees, further south at Mikve Yisrael outside of Jaffa. Around the same time, the Sursock family, a Greek Christian family resident in Beirut, purchased from the Ottoman government, large swathes of the Jezreel Valley, including the Nazereth hills which was sparsely covered with steppes and shrubberies at the time.
With the founding of the Jewish National Fund in 1901, tree planting and land reclamation became more organized and on a national scale. In 1921, after lengthy negotiations, the Sursock landholdings were legally transferred to the JNF and Kibbutz Ginegar was founded the following year west of Nazareth and at the southern foothills. It was the wish of the JNF as well as of the Jewish leadership that this area be made to look like what it was originally in Biblical times and the idea for the Balfour Forest was born, named after Arthur Balfour, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the end of World War I, who was sympathetic to Jewish national aspirations in the Jewish ancestral homeland.
This was to be the JNF’s first major forestry project, requiring a large amount of capital. So fund-raising began almost immediately spearheaded by the Balfour Forest Committee based in London and headed by Major George Nathan, assisted by the Marquess of Reading. The funds were then transferred to the JNF and, in 1928, on the barren hilltop north of Ginegar, the planting of the forest commenced attended by Jewish and British officials including Menachem Ussishkin, chairman of the JNF, Sir Alfred Mond, accompanied by Lady Mond, who planted the first saplings, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, David ben Gurion, head of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, High Commissioner Lord Plumer and Lady Plumer, Harry Sacher of the Palestine Zionist Executive, David Yellin, chairman of the Vaad Leumi (the National Council of Palestine), M. Bernard Baron, and Lady Erleigh. After the ceremonial first planting, labor groups from Ginegar were recruited for the project assisted by labor activists from California. All were in agreement that the forest would be economically beneficial to both Jew and Arab alike. When the forest was inaugurated later that year, it was a festive occasion with speeches which were broadcast to England. Well wishes came in from London including from Balfour himself, Sir Herbert Samuel, the previous High Commissioner of Palestine, the Earl of Reading, former Viceroy of India, and former Prime Minister David Lloyd-George. Chaim Solomon, member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council, then presented the forest in the name of British Jewry to the Jubilee Committee as a “symbol of loyalty to the throne and a token of gratitude for the freedom the Jews have enjoyed in Britain during the King’s reign.” The inauguration ceremony ended with the singing of Hatikvah.
In 1933, a major forest fire occurred. Firefighters from Ginegar, and nearby Nahalal and Afula helped to put out the fire. Its cause was uncertain, but during the Arab intifada of 1936-1939, one of many that would periodically erupt since even before the advent of Zionism, Arab arsonists would torch the forest several times causing extensive damage. In one incident in 1939, an arson attempt was thwarted due to the timely intervention by the Police Inspector of Tiberias.
After the intifada had run its course and the onset on World War II, the forest was well guarded and it quickly recovered – so much so that it became a location of frequent recreational and cultural activities. In 1942, a Biblically theme theatrical performance took place at a natural theater setting in the middle of the forest.
In the 1950s, additional trees were planted by refugees from Europe and North Africa. In 1985, a large grove of trees was planted in memory of William MacRae, a prominent member of the Scottish National Party (Balfour was a fellow Scot) and long-time friend of Israel. He was also Professor Emeritus at the University of Haifa.
Today, the forest is surrounded by villages and towns including Migdal HaEmek on the north and west, Yefe an-Nasariyye on the north, Ginegar on the south, and Nazareth on the east. Part of a popular recreational bike path beginning at Migdal haEmek traverses the forest, and weekly visits are arranged by the Haifa Jewish Hospitality Committee.
Baghdad is the administrative “capital” of the Arab-occupied territory of Iraq. Recalling the stories of the Arabian Nights (many characters of which aren’t even Arabian), most of Baghdad’s people today (as back then) are Arab Muslim but that doesn’t mean that this city is an “Arab” city.
Conventional wisdom has it that Baghdad was founded in the 8th century by the Arab Abbasid dynasty, but in point of fact, the site of present-day Baghdad was originally an Assyrian site with a Persian minority, occupied for thousands of years before its “founding”. Located deep in the Assyrian Empire, this site was composed of a group of settlements and hamlets, one of which was inhabited by Persians and actually called “Baghdad”, a Persian word of unknown origin. (In ancient times, Persia and Assyria were neighboring empires and the people of one empire would often settle in the territory of the other). When the present city was founded, Arab Muslim settlers began to populate the neighborhoods, along with Persians (most of whom had already adopted Islam), Jews, and the indigenous Assyrians and Syriacs (who had adopted Christianity centuries before). Shortly thereafter, Baghdad entered a Golden Age as the ruling Arabs actually showed respect and tolerance toward the other non-Arab and non-Muslim peoples and the city became a diocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church as well as the seat of the Assyrian Church.
Notable scholars based in Baghdad during this time include:
· Jabir ibn Hayyan, Persian metallurgist known for his work with practical metallurgy
· Hnanisho II, Assyrian patriarch who transferred the seat of the Assyrian Church from Seleucia-Ctesiphon to Baghdad in 775
In 1258, Baghdad was captured by the Mongols led by Hulegu, a grandson of Genghis Khan. Many quarters were ruined by fire, siege, or looting and most of the city's inhabitants were slain. Afterwards, recovery was gradual. In 1336, Denha II was consecrated Assyrian patriarch in Baghdad thanks to the patronage of the Christian emir Haggi Togai. At the beginning of the 15th century, the Mongols, once again, under the Emperor Tamerlane, ravaged Baghdad and had 90,000 Assyrians beheaded. Again, recovery was gradual. All communities, but especially the indigenous community, were left in a much weakened position, the Assyrians being subject to periodic persecutions by Arabs, the Mameluke rulers of Egypt, and the Ottoman Turks.
A year after the great schism in the Assyrian church in 1552, out of which, was formed the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Chaldean Archeparchy of Baghdad was established as the Metropolitan Archdiocese. Baghdad also became an archeparchy of the Syriac Catholic Church in 1862. In 1898, the Cathedral of Mary Mother of Sorrows was consecrated. It became one of the most important cathedrals of the Chaldean church. In 1918, many Assyrians settled in Baghdad fleeing massacres by the Kurds in the town of Salmas (today, located in the extreme northwestern part of Iran).
Since 1950, the Chaldean Catholic Church has been headquartered in the Cathedral of Mary Mother of Sorrows.In 1964 the Assyrian patriarch Shimun XXI Eshai, in exile since 1933, decreed a number of changes to church practice including liturgical reform, the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, and the shortening of Lent. These changes, combined with his long absence from Iraq, caused a rift in the Assyrian church which led to schism. In 1968 traditionalists within the church elected Thoma Darmo as a rival patriarch to Shimun XXI Eshai, forming the independent Ancient Church of the East and based in Baghdad.
The neighborhood of Dora was largely uninhabited until the 1950s when Assyrians from Habbaniya started to settle there. Most houses and churches were built during the ‘60s and ‘70s while the booming neighborhood attracted more middle-class families. Prior to the Iraq War the area was home to the largest concentration of Assyrians who boasted a population of 150,000. But even then, they were subject to Arab discrimination and persecution and sometimes, murder. In 2002, a 71-year-old nun was savagely attacked and stabbed to death in a local monastery by extremists, who then beheaded her. Since the war, these incidents only intensified as Assyrians were subject to kidnappings, death threats, vandalism, and house burnings by Al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups, and most of Baghdad’s Assyrians were forced to flee as part of the ethnic cleansing process. Some of the most horrific terrorist incidents included: (2004) Arabs bombed five Chaldean churches, murdering nearly a dozen and injuring close to 100. (2005) Assyrians were thought to be among 14 bound corpses of torture victims found in a city garbage dump. (2006) Arabs bombed a Christian district, killing 16 and injuring many dozens more. (2010) 44 church members and two young priests were slaughtered at the Sayidat al-Nejat Cathedral Syriac Catholic Church when Islamic State of Iraq Fedayeen invaded the church, shooting members and tossing grenades into the congregation. Seven policemen were also killed. (2013) Over two dozen people outside a Chaldean church were massacred by Arab bombers. In a separate incident, an Assyrian market was targeted, killing at least eleven patrons in two blasts.
Today, there are 1500 indigenous Assyrians of all denominations left in Baghdad who survive in spite of the intense Arab persecutions they have to endure.
Other indigenous sites that were either destroyed or just barely survived the Arab onslaughts include: Caliphs Street, Babel College, the Church of St. Paul and St. Peter, St. George Assyrian Church, Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Cathedral, St. John Catholic Church, St. Maria Church, St. Joseph Kerk, St. Jacob Kerk, Church of the Sacred Heart, and the Church of St. James.
The legendary city of Babylon is today part of the Arab-occupied territory of Iraq. Thousands of years before the Arab occupation, it was the capital and center of the Babylonian Empire. Today, the descendants of the ancient Babylonians are the Iranian Christians, closely aligned with the Assyrian Christians of Iraq, and Babylon itself is an archaeological/historical site, part of the present-day city of Hillah, about 53 miles south of Baghdad. Originally, the Euphrates Riverbisected the city, but the course of the river has since shifted so that most of the remains of the former western part of the city are now inundated but some portions of the city wall remain. Other parts of the western half have been mined by Arabs for commercial building materials. Some of the nearby ancient settlements included Kish, Borsippa, Dilbat, Kutha. Marad and Sippar all of them along the Euphrates.
The building of Babylon began many thousands of years ago. It was originally called Babel (as in, the Tower of Babel) a small Akkadian town dating from the period of the Akkadian Empire c. 2300 BCE. In Genesis 10:10, Babel is described as being founded by Nimrod along with Uruk, Akkad and perhaps Calneh—all of them in the land of Shinar. According to Genesis 11, there was but one human race, speaking one language, migrating to Shinar and eventually establishing a city and the famous tower. Soon, however, the God of the Bible halted construction by scattering humanity across the earth and confusing their language so that they were unable to communicate. Some scholars believe that the tower may have been inspired by a real-life temple, or ziggurat, built to honor Marduk, the patron god of Babylon and son of Shamash, the sun-god of Sippar.
The Akkadian king Šar-kali-šarri laid the foundations in Babylon of new temples for the gods Annūnı̄tum and Ilaba. The town became part of a small independent city-state with the rise of the First Babylonian dynasty in the 19th century BCE. After the Amorite king Hammurabi created a short-lived empire in the 18th century, he transformed Babylon into a major city and declared himself its king, southern Mesopotamia became known as Babylonia and Babylon eclipsed Nippur as its holy city. It has been estimated that Babylon was the largest city in the world c. 1770 – c. 1670 BCE, and again c. 612 – c. 320 BCE. It was perhaps the first city to reach a population above 200,000.
The empire waned under Hammurabi's son Samsu-iluna and Babylon spent long periods under, and pillaged by, foreign empires such as the Assyrians, Hittites, Kassites, and Elamites. An Akkadian south Mesopotamian dynasty then ruled for the first time. However, Babylon remained weak and subject to domination by Assyria. Its ineffectual native kings were unable to prevent new waves of foreign West Semitic settlers from the deserts of the Levant, including the Arameans and Suteans in the 11th century BCE.
Under the Assyrian emperor Sennacherib, Babylonia was in a constant state of revolt, led by a chieftain named Merodach-Baladan, in alliance with the Elamites, and suppressed only by the complete destruction of the city of Babylon. In 689 BCE, its walls, temples and palaces were razed. Destruction of the religious center shocked many, and the subsequent murder of Sennacherib by two of his own sons while praying to the god Nisroch was considered an act of atonement. Consequently, his successor Esarhaddon hastened to rebuild the old city and make it his residence during part of the year. After his death, Babylonia was governed by his elder son, the Assyrian prince Shamash-shum-ukin, who eventually started a civil war in 652 BCE against his own brother, Ashurbanipal, who ruled in Nineveh. Once again, Babylon was besieged by the Assyrians and eventually surrendered. An Assyrian governor named Kandalanu was then appointed as ruler of the city. After the death of Ashurbanipal, another civil war followed. Babylon, like many other parts of the near east, took advantage of the anarchy within Assyria to free itself from Assyrian rule. Under Nabopolassar, a previously unknown Chaldean chieftain, Babylon escaped Assyrian rule, and in an alliance with Cyaxares, king of the Medes and Persians together with the Scythians and Cimmerians, finally destroyed the Assyrian Empire between 612 BCE and 605 BCE.
With the recovery of Babylonian independence, a new era of architectural activity ensued, particularly during the reign of his son Nebuchadnezzar II (604–561 BCE). Nebuchadnezzar ordered the complete reconstruction of the imperial grounds, including the Etemenankiziggurat, and the construction of the Ishtar Gate—the most prominent of eight gates around Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar is also credited with the construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon—one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—said to have been built for his homesick wife Amyitis. Nebuchandnezzar is also notoriously associated with the Babylonian exile of the Jews from Judea, the result of an imperial technique of pacification, used also by the Assyrians, in which ethnic groups in conquered areas were deported en masse to the capital.
In 539 BCE, the Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, who conquered Babylon. According to 2 Chronicles 36 of the Hebrew Bible, Cyrus later issued a decree permitting captive people, including the Jews, to return to their own lands. Under Cyrus and the subsequent Persian king Darius I, Babylon became the capital city of the 9th Satrapy, as well as a center of learning and scientific advancement. In Achaemenid Persia, the ancient Babylonian arts of astronomy and mathematicswere revitalized, and Babylonian scholars completed maps of constellations.
The early Persian kings had attempted to maintain the religious ceremonies of Marduk, but by the reign of Darius III, over-taxation and the strain of numerous wars led to a deterioration of Babylon's main shrines and canals, and the destabilization of the surrounding region. There were numerous attempts at rebellion and in 522 BCE (Nebuchadnezzar III), 521 BCE (Nebuchadnezzar IV) and 482 BCE (Bel-shimani and Shamash-eriba) native Babylonian kings briefly regained independence. However these revolts were quickly repressed and Babylon remained under Persian rule until Alexander the Great's entry in 331 BCE.
Under Alexander, Babylon again flourished as a center of learning and commerce. However, following his death in 323 BCE in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, a period of chaos and anarchy ensued which virtually emptied the city; most of the inhabitants were transported to Seleucia, where a palace and a temple (Esagila) were built. With this deportation, Babylon became insignificant as a city, although more than a century later, sacrifices were still performed in its old sanctuary.
In the first century, after the death of Jesus Christ, Christians in Syria and Judea faced severe persecution by the Romans and many of them moved east where they joined the ancient Jewish community in Babylon. Of those who moved east was Saint Thomas, a disciple of Jesus. He succeeded in converting the local inhabitants, from the Euphrates to Persia, to Christianity and established their own church which eventually became the seat of the Bishop of the Church of the East for many centuries afterwards. A new Christian culture was developed and the people would speak various forms of Aramaic. This was maintained even when the city came under the rule of the Parthian and Sassanid Empires and Babylon was designated as a province.
In the mid-7th century, Mesopotamia was invaded and settled by the expanding Arab Muslim Empire, and a period of Islamization and Arabization followed. Babylon was dissolved as a province and Aramaic and members of the Church of the East eventually became marginalized. Soon, the last of the inhabitants left and the city fell into ruins. Babylon is mentioned in medieval Arabic writings as a source of bricks, said to have been used in cities from Baghdad to Basra.
In the centuries that followed, travelers and archaeologists from Europe have visited Babylon. This included such people as Pietro della Valle in the 17thcentury and Pierre-Joseph de Beauchamp in the 18th whose memoir, published in English translation in 1792, provoked the British East India Company to direct its agents in Baghdad and Basra to acquire Mesopotamian relics for shipment to London.
The site of Babylon has been a cultural asset to Iraq since the creation of the modern Arab Iraqi state in 1921. In a bid to cultural appropriation, Iraq officially “protected” and “excavated” the site and Babylonian images periodically appeared on Arab Iraqi postcards and stamps. In the 1960s, a replica of the Ishtar Gate and a reconstruction of Ninmakh Temple were built on site. On February 14, 1978, the Ba'athist government under Saddam Hussein began the "Archaeological Restoration of Babylon Project": reconstructing features of the ancient city atop its ruins. These features included the Southern Palace of Nebuchandnezzar, the Processional Way, the Lion of Babylon, and an amphitheater constructed in the city's Hellenistic era. In 1982 the government minted a set of seven coins displaying iconic features of Babylon. A Babylon International Festival was held in September 1987, and annually thereafter until 2002 (excepting 1990 and 1991), to showcase this work. Proposed reconstruction of the Hanging Gardens and the great ziggurat never took place. Hussein installed a portrait of himself and Nebuchadnezzar at the entrance to the ruins and inscribed his name on many of the bricks, in imitation of Nebuchadnezzar. When the 1991 Gulf War ended, Hussein wanted to build a modern palace called Saddam Hill over some of the old ruins. In 2003, he intended the construction of a cable car line over Babylon, but plans were halted by the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Following the invasion, the area around Babylon came under the control of US troops, before being handed over to Polish forces in September. In 2005 the site was handed over to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture.
Berber village in the Atlas Mountains, courtesy Photorator
The great Atlas Mountain range in northwestern Africa has long been the homeland (today under Arab occupation) of the indigenous Berber tribes of the Blida, Chenaoui, Chenoua, Chleuh, Kabyle, Sanhaja, Zayane, and the Zenata. It stretches about 1600 miles from the west of Morocco, through northern Algeria, to northern Tunisia and is divided as follows:
The Anti-Atlas, extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the southwest of Morocco toward the northeast to the heights of Ouarzazateand further east to the city of Tafilalt (altogether a distance of approximately 310 miles). In the south it borders the Sahara. The easternmost point of the anti-Atlas is the Jbel Saghro range flanked on its northern border by the High Atlas and includes the Djebel Siroua, a massif of volcanic origin. The Jebel Bani is a much lower range running along the southern side of the Anti Atlas.
The High Atlas, in central Morocco rises in the west at the Atlantic coast and stretches in an eastern direction to the Moroccan-Algerian border. It has several peaks over 2 ½ miles above sea level including the highest summit in North Africa, Toubkalat 13,671 feet, and further east, Ighil m'Goun(13,356 ft) the second major summit of the range. At the Atlantic and to the southwest, the range drops abruptly and makes a transition to the coast and the Anti-Atlas range. To the north, in the direction of Marrakesh, the range descends less abruptly. On the heights of Ouarzazate the massif is cut through by the Draa Valleywhich opens southward. From there, the local Berbers would cultivate the high plains of the Ourika Valley. Near Barrage Cavagnac there is a hydroelectricdamthat has created the artificial lake Lalla Takerkoust. The lake also serves as a source of fish for the local fishermen.
The Middle Atlas, is completely in Morocco and is the northernmost of the main three Atlas ranges. The range lies north of the High Atlas, separated by the Moulouyaand Oum Er-Rbia rivers, and south of the Rif mountains, separated by the Sebou River. To the west are the main coastal plains of Morocco with many of the major cities and, to the east, the high barren plateau that lies between the Saharan and Tell Atlases. The high point of the range is the Jbel Bou Naceur.
The Tell Atlas range is over 930 miles in length, and stretches from Morocco, through Algeria to Tunisia. It parallels the Mediterranean coast. Together with the Saharan Atlas to the south it forms the northernmost of two more or less parallel ranges which gradually approach one another towards the east, merging in eastern Algeria. The area immediately to the south of this range is the high plateau of the Hautes Plaines, with lakes in the wet season and salt flats in the dry.
The Saharan Atlas of Algeria is the eastern portion of the Atlas mountain range. Though not as high as the High Atlas, they are far more imposing than the Tell Atlas range that runs to the north of them and closer to the coast. The highest peak in the range is the 7,336 ft high Djebel Aissa. They mark the northern edge of the Sahara Desert. The mountains see some rainfall and are better suited to agriculture than the plateau region to the north.
In ancient times, the kings of Numidia would be buried in the Madghacens in the city of Batna, today, located in northeastern Algeria. The Madghacens were the royal mausoleums, believed to be named after the ancient King Madghacen, common ancestor of the Botri Berbers as well as the Zenata Berbers who became the main inhabitants of the Aures region.
Even though North Africa was invaded and occupied by the Muslim Arabs in the early 8th century during the reign of the Umayyad caliphs, the Zenata, were among the earliest tribes to adopt Islam, in the 7th. The Berbers of the Sousse region also adopted Islam, but gradually and not at the expense of their traditional language, culture and religious customs which they held on to to varying degrees. Eventually, the land that became known as Morocco, came under Umayyad rule but their rule was tenuous due to Berber resistance. In 739 AD an Umayyad Arab army was utterly destroyed twice by the Moroccan Berbers at the battle of the Nobles, and the battle of Bagdoura in the Middle Atlas. In 789 AD, with the approval of the locals, a former Umayyad Arab courtier established the Idrisid dynasty that ruled in Fez. It lasted until 970 AD, as various petty states vied for control over the ensuing centuries. From the 9th century, Sanhaja tribes were established in the Middle Atlas range, in the Rif Mountains and on the Atlantic coast of Morocco and large parts of the Sanhaja, such as the Kutâma, were settled in the central and eastern parts Algeria (Kabylia, Setif, Algiers, Msila) and also in northern Niger. They played an important part in the rise of the Arab Fatimid dynasty.
In the mid-11th century, a group of Sanhaja chieftains returning from the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) invited the theologian Ibn Yasin to preach among their tribes. Ibn Yasin united the tribes in an alliance with the Berber Almoravid caliphate under Yusuf ibn Tashfin, subsequently establishing what we know today, as Morocco. From Morocco, they conquered western Algeria and Al-Andalus (part of present-day Spain).
The Berber Almohad caliphate was founded by Ibn Tumart, a member of the Masmuda tribal confederation of southern Morocco. Around 1120, the Almohads first established a Berber state in Tinmel in the Atlas Mountains. In 1359 Hintata tribesmen from the High Atlas came down and occupied Marakesh, ancestral Almohad capital, which they would govern independently until 1526.
Beginning in the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire ruled much of North Africa. During this time, a group a Spanish Muslim refugees settled among the Ouled Soltan of the Blida area. The Zenaga tribes, believed to be descended from the Zenata or Sanhaja, would often suffer exploitation at the hands of the Arabs as either semi-sedentary agriculturalists and fishermen or as Marabouts (religious Muslim leaders and scholars). The Kabyle, on the other hand, were relatively independent of outside control. They lived primarily in three different kingdoms: the Kingdom of Kukuwhich stretched from the Atlas Mountains to the southern plains of Algiers, the Kingdom of Ait Abbas, and the principality of Aït Jubar. These areas were gradually taken over by the French during their colonization beginning in 1857, despite vigorous resistance. Such Kabyle leaders as Lalla Fatma n Soumer would lead in the resistance even as late as Mokrani's rebellion in 1871. But due to French colonization, many Kabyle emigrated to other areas in and outside Algeria. Over time, immigrant workers also went to France. But resistance against the French continued, especially by the Zayanes of Khenifra in the Middle Atlas under their warrior leader Mouha ou Hammou Zayani. Thus they succeeded in preventing many invaders from seizing Khénifra. Despite the French defeat in the Battle of El Herri, November 13, 1914, the colonizers were determined not to abandon the fight against the Zayanes.
Since Algeria gained independence in 1962, tensions have arisen between Kabylie and the central Arab government on several occasions. With the spread of the Berber Spring in the 1980s, the Berbers sought to reaffirm their roots. In 1980, protesters engaged in several months of demonstrations in Kabylie demanding the recognition of Berber as an official language. In June and July 1998, their demonstrations turned violent after the assassination of singer Matoub Lounes and the passage of a law requiring use of Arabic in daily life. Afterwards, the Kabyle endured years of abuse by the police which culminated in April 2001 (called the Black Spring) when a young Kabyle, Masinissa Guermah, was murdered by the police and major riots among the Kabyle ensued. At the same time, organized activism produced the Arouch, and neo-traditional local councils. Eventually, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika conceded and granted them some human rights.
Today, the bulk of the Berber population in North Africa have been confined to the Atlas Mountains. Among their main cities and towns are Ouarzazate, Tafilalt, Blida, Batna, Tizi-Ouzou, Tipaza, Khenifra, Barrage Cavagnac, Tahannaout, Amizmiz, Imlil, Tin Mal, Setif, M’sila and Ijoukak.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is today an Arab country, approximately the size of Indiana with a population of about 8 million. It is actually more an invention than a country. Historically, the northwestern quarter made up the Israelite tribal territories of Reuben and Gad, to the south and immediately to the east was the ancient kingdoms of Moab, Edom, and Ammon. The rest was part of the Arabian Desert. After World War I, the victorious British united all these lands as well as the lands to the west of the river, all of which, had already been designated as the borders of the revived Jewish National Home. However, in 1922, the British authorities separated the area from the part of Palestine that was west of the Jordan River and created a new Palestinian Arab country known as the Kingdom of Transjordan because its lands lie across the Jordan River. It acquired its present name at the end of 1948.
NOTE: Jordan is probably the most stable of all Arab countries today, but even here, Islamic extremists have their ardent supporters. So wherever you travel in the country, use caution and be aware of your surroundings.
In ancient times, this area was partially made up of the ancient Israelite/Jewish territories of Gad, Reuven, and the eastern half of Menasheh (which also extended into, what is today, southwestern Syria). In this area are the sites of Mount Nebo (burial place of Moses), Abel Shittim (today, the town of Abila where the Israelites camped before crossing the river into the Land of Canaan), and Penuel where Jacob stopped on his way to Padan Aram in Syria and, after wrestling with an angel, received as a blessing, the name of “Israel,” an acronym meaning “because you fought with God.” It is an irony that the name “Israel” was first coined at a site that is located in what is today, an “Arab Palestinian” Kingdom.
South and east of the ancient Israelite territories were the non-Israelite territories of Ammon, centered in and around, what is today, Amman, and Edom and Moab. The inhabitants of these places were long extinct though some say that their descendants do actually live on as the local bedouin. East of these territories, the region was often referred to in the Bible as the “East Country”, part of the Nabatean Arab homeland.
Since the biblical period and until the early Middle Ages, Israelites/Jews continued to inhabit their ancient ancestral lands east of the Jordan. With the Arab conquest and occupation in the 7th century, this territory, being so close to the Arabian desert, was the one of the first in Palestine to experience Arab colonization, settling alongside the indigenous Jewish inhabitants. The town of Ajlun, the biblical Gilead, had long been a prominent medieval Jewish center. At one point, there was question among the rabbis in Jerusalem over whether Ajlun and the entire region was halakhically a part of the Land of Israel. At the end of the 16th century and after much debate, they decided in the affirmative and the local Jews were henceforth able to observe those Jewish rites that can only be practiced in the Land of Israel. (At that time, no one ever suggested that Jews were there in order to protect Jaffa.)
This rabbinic ruling, however, was over a region that became devoid of Jews as during and after the Crusader period, bedouin raids and depredations drove the local Jews away. But sacred land is sacred land and the empty lands east of the Jordan were treated just as holy as the lands west of the Jordan and Jewish travelers and merchants still maintained an intermittent Jewish presence in the region.
In 1879, the lands east of the Jordan was proposed as a place of Jewish settlement by the English Christian adventurer Laurence Oliphant as a first step towards Israel’s restoration to its ancestral land. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, Zionist organizations in New York, Montreal, Chicago, Romania, and Yekatrinoslav, purchased land in the area for this purpose. However, no appreciable settlement followed. During World War I, the Battle of es-Salt between the Turks and the Jewish Legion, just 16 miles west of Amman, was among the most decisive battles in the War that allowed the British to take control of Palestine.
In 1919, as part of post-war international peace deals, Zionist leaders proposed the border of Palestine as including all of the ancient Israelite territories plus Moab and Edom — one of the few things the Zionists actually did right. But the British had other ideas and instead, created their own borders. Upon the creation of Jordan, Jewish habitation in Jordan was decreed off limits, especially in regards to the ancient Israelite territories. This prohibition is still upheld today, as it is in the rest of this “Arab Palestinian” kingdom.
Sites in the Israelite section of Jordan: Penuel – where Jacob stopped on his way to Padan Aram in Syria and, after wrestling with an angel, received as a blessing, the name of “Israel,” a Hebrew acronym meaning “because you fought with God.” (It is an irony that the name “Israel” was first coined at a site that is located in what is today, an “Arab Palestinian” Kingdom.) Gilead – today the town of Ajloun, the ancient Gilead home of the Balm of Gilead. The town was the birthplace of the Prophet Elijah Mount Nebo – burial place of Moses. Other mountains that served prominently in the story of the Exodus from Egypt were Mts. Abarim, Pisgah, and Peor Jordan River and valley, half lies in Jordan and half lies in Israel. It contains the sites of Abel Shittim today, the ruined site of Abil ez Zeit just a few miles north of the Dead Sea, where the Israelites encamped before conquering the land of Canaan on the west side of the Jordan River, and Bethabara, believed to be the place where John was baptized and conducted his ministry. A tributary of the river is the Jabbok, today, known as the Wadi ez Zaka, where Jacob crossed when returning from Padan Aram to Canaan. Mahanaim – the Gileadite town that was the hiding place of King David during Absalom’s rebellion the ancient synagogue of Gerasa, today the town of Jerash the ancient synagogue of Gadara, today the town of Umm Qais es-Salt – the site of a World War I victory of the Jewish Legion (attached to the British army) over the Turks. In the 1890’s, the town briefly served as the home of photographer Isaiah Rafalovich the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth but is lined, on both its eastern and western shores, with small resorts and beachside clubs; the Arnon River juts out from the Dead Sea and formed the southern boundary of Reuben. Today, it is called Wadi el Mojib
The ancient Jewish village of Anatot is today, the town of Almon, population, 270 families. (Anatot was the original name while Almon was named after a nearby village on a mountaintop.) It is located about 2 ½ miles northeast of Jerusalem and under the authority of the Mattei Binyamin Regional Council. In the Book of Joshua, Anatot and Almon were usually mentioned together, possibly as twin cities. Nowadays, the two names are used interchangeably.
Anatot, located in the tribal territory of Benjamin, was the name of one of the Levitical citiesgiven to the children of Aaron the first High Priest of Israel and brother of Moses (Joshua 21:13–18; 1 Chronicles 6:54–60). It is mentioned as the native place of Abiezer the Anetothite, one of David's "thirty" (2 Samuel 23:27), and of Jehu, another of his mighty men (1 Chr 12:3). Abiathar the Priest of Israel and native of Anatot, was banished there by King Solomon. It is however best known as the home town of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 1:1; 29:27; 32:7-9) who delivered a prophecy of tribulation by the sword against the residents for plotting against him (Jer 11:21-23).
During the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar in 588–87 BCE, Jeremiah purchased land in Anatot from his uncle in order to preserve the family patrimony (Lev. 25:25), thus demonstrating his faith in the eventual return of the Judeans to their land (Jer. 32:7). In 538 BCE, Cyrus ruled Babylonia and Jeremiah’s faith bore fruit with Cyrus’ decree permitting the Jews to return. Among those who took advantage of this, were 128 "men of Anatot" (Ezra 2:23; Neh. 7:27) who rebuilt the village.
Banished from the region once again, this time by the Romans in the 1stcentury, Anatot was destroyed, but it was later settled by Christian, then by Arab, settlers who called the ancient town “Anata” (which still exists to this day). In 1838, American archaeologist Edward Robinson identified the site as the Biblical Anatot and by 1982, the Jews returned once again and rebuilt the town in an area nearby with the help of the Amana land development organisation. In 1988, the HBO movie Steal the Sky, starring Mariel Hemingway and Ben Cross, was partially filmed in Anatot, which was used as a location substitute for Iraq.
Various sites in and around Anatot/Almon include: Anatot Wineries, the Herzl Bar, Nahal Prat (otherwise known as Wadi Kelt), Ein Prat and Ein Prat Nature Reserve, the Jerusalem suburb of Pisgat Zeev approximately 3 miles to the west, and the villages of Nofei Prat and Kfar Adumim about 3 miles to the east, and the town of Alonabout a mile further.
St. George Assyrian Church, Baghdad, courtesy spc.rs
The country that is now called “Iraq” is yet another Arab-occupied country where the Arabs claim indigeneity. But the fact is that they are no more indigenous to Iraq than they are to Israel or Lebanon or Algeria. Among the groups of people who really are indigenous are the Assyrian Christians (along with the Kurds/Yazidis and the “Marsh Arabs”). Once the center of a powerful empire, feared by their neighbors, the Assyrians of today are a persecuted minority throughout Iraq, mainly at the mercy of their Arab occupier overlords. But not solely by the Arabs as their ancestral territory also covers what is today, Syria, southern Turkey, and northwestern Iran, which makes them subject to persecutions from Turks and Iranians as well.
The name Assyria is possibly derived from Ashur, a descendant of Noah. According to the Bible in Genesis, chapter 10, verses 11 and 12: “Out of that land (Shinar) went forth Asshur, and built Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city.” According to historians, this was the beginning of the Old Assyrian Empire. Aside from Ashur, other well-known emperors include:
Sargon I, Ashur II, Naram Sin, and Shamshi Adad I/II/III.
The Middle Assyrian Empire (c. 1380 BCE-c. 911 BCE) was founded by Eriba Adad I. His successors included:
Shalmaneser I, Tiglat Pileser I, Shamshi Adad IV, Ashurnasirpal I, Shalmaneser II, and Tiglat Pileser II.
The Neo-Assyrian Empire, which lasted until 609 BCE, included:
Adad Nirari II, the first king of this period, Ashurnasirpal II, Shalmaneser III, Shamshi Adad V, Shalmaneser IV, Tiglat Pileser III, Shalmaneser V, Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhadon, Ashurbanipal, and Ashur Ubalit II, the last king of this period.
In 609 BCE, Assyria was taken over, and incorporated into, the Babylonian Empire under Nabopolassar. Nabopolassar was succeeded by the great Nebuchadnezzar, Evil Merodach, and then later, by Nabonidus. Other well-known rulers of this period were:
Cyrus the Great, Cambyses II, Darius the Great, Artaxerxes, Seleucus Nicator, Antiochus the Great, and Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus Dionysus was the last king of this period before being taken over by the Greek Seleucid Empire under Diodotus Tryphon.
The Seleucids, in turn, were taken over by the Parthians in 63 BCE possibly under Phraates III. Assyria continued to be ruled by Parthia until the year 222. During this time, Saint Thaddeus visited the region, and he, along with many other apostles, converted the Assyrians to Christianity. Their own unique church was established in 66 and it came to have authority over them (in varying degrees) ever since.
Over the centuries, the Assyrian church underwent many changes and evolutions. The seat of the main church was established in the town of Edessa in 66, today in southern Turkey and Mar Aggai, a disciple of Saint Thaddeus, was chosen as leader. He was followed by:
· Palut of Edessa (c.81-87) renamed Mar Mari (c.87 – c.121) During his reign, a bishopric was formally established at Seleucia-Ctesiphon today, the Arab-occupied town of al-Madain in central Iraq.
· Isaac (399–410 AD) recognised as 'Grand Metropolitan' and Primate of the Church of the East at the Synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410. His reign was short-lived and later that year, Ahha succeeded him as Catholicos.
· Dadishoʿ (Dadishu I) 421–456 AD) In 424, the Church of the East declared itself independent of all other churches; thereafter, its Catholicoi began to use the additional title of Patriarch. During his reign, Nestorianism was denounced at the Council of Ephesus in 431.
· Shemʿon II (c. 1365 – c. 1392) (dates uncertain)
· Shemʿon III (c. 1403 – c. 1407) (existence uncertain)
· Eliya IV (c. 1437)
· Shemʿon IV Basidi (1437–1493, ob.1497)
· Shemʿon V (1497–1501)
· Eliya V (1502–1503)
· Shemʿon VI (1504–1538)
· Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb (1539–1558) By the Schism of 1552 the Church of the East was divided into many splinters but two main factions, of which one (the Church of Assyria and Mosul) entered into full communion with the Catholic Church in Rome, and the other remained independent. In 1553, the leader of this breakaway church, Shem’on Sulaqa was consecrated by the..
Ashkelon today is one of the major ports of Israel located on the southern coast. Its population of over 130,000 is made up of the descendants of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, and also immigrants from South Africa, UK, Ethiopia, and Russia.
In the time of Joshua, Ashkelon became one of the five major cities of the Philistines. Even though it was allotted to the tribe of Judah, the Israelites were never able to conquer it and it was, consequently, at constant war with them and later, the Kingdom of Judah.
During the Assyrian invasion in the 8th century BCE, Ashkelon allied with King Hezekiah. Later, it was the last of the Philistine cities to hold out against Babylonian kingNebuchadnezzar II. When it fell in 604 BCE, it was burnt and destroyed and its people taken into exile thus, extinguishing the Philistines as a people.
Ashkelon was thereafter repopulated by various gentile peoples but it also contained a sizable Jewish community after the Babylonian captivity. This community flourished under the Egyptian Ptolemies in the early 2nd century BCE. It later had mostly friendly relations with the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms of Judea. It surrendered twice to Jonathan the Maccabbee and later, to Alexander Jannaeus. In a significant case of an early witch-hunt, during the reign of the Hasmonean queen Salome Alexandra, the court of Simeon ben Shetach sentenced to death eighty women in Ashkelon who had been charged with sorcery. Herod the Great, who became a client king of Rome over Judea and its surroundings in 38 BCE, had not received Ashkelon, yet he built monumental buildings there: bath houses, elaborate fountains and large colonnades, and his sister Salome resided there.
The city remained loyal to Rome during the Great Revolt, 66–70 AD. During the revolt, Jewish forces tried several times to conquer the city but without success. Jews continued to live and flourish in Ashkelon, however, and during the Byzantine era from the 4th – 7th centuries, they built their own synagogue. Their local orchards became famous and a city fair was held every year. Under Fatimid Arab rule in the 10th century, the Jewish community was known as the Kehal Ashkelon and the Kahal Kadosh (according to letters found in the Cairo Genizah).
After the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem, many Jews fled to Ashkelon escaping Crusader atrocities. The six elders of the local Karaite Jewish community contributed to the ransoming of captured Jews and holy relics from Jerusalem. The Letter of the Karaite elders of Ascalon, which was sent to the Jewish elders of Alexandria, described their participation in the ransom effort and the ordeals suffered by many of the freed captives. At the same time, members of the Jewish community were in constant touch with Jewish centers abroad. For example in 1110, letters were sent to the head of the "Gaon Jacob Yeshivah," which was exiled from the country. After the Crusader conquest in 1153, part of the Jewish population remained in Ashkelon. Benjamin of Tudela (c. 1170) described it as "a large and beautiful town, which contains two hundred Jews, and apart from them, several dozen Karaites and about three hundred Samaritans." A few hundred Jews were living in Ashkelon in the second half of the 12th century, but moved to Jerusalem when the city was destroyed in 1191. Information also exists on the settlement of Samaritans in the 13th century.
Throughout the rule of the Ottoman Empire (1516-1917), there was no Jewish community in Ashkelon. After the invasion of Israel by Napoleon, the Jewish community of Gaza was destroyed by the invading French with the active participation of the local Arabs. When Israel was briefly invaded and occupied by Arab forces from Egypt (1831-1840), Ibrahim Pasha, the commander of Egyptian forces, took the stones from Gaza’s ruined synagogue and used them to build a fort in Ashkelon. At the same time, Arabs were brought in from Egypt to settle there and the town of al Majdal was established.
In 1948, the city was re-captured by Egyptian Arab forces who were on their way to conquer Tel Aviv. However, it was taken by Israeli forces later that year. Tel Aviv was saved and the Arab population fled along with the Egyptian army. It was later settled by Jewish refugees from throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Thereafter, it was named “Migdal Ashkelon” but in 1953, the nearby neighborhood of Afridar was incorporated and the name "Ashkelon" was returned to the town.