In the light of the recent increase in anti-semitic activities in Europe and beyond, Yossi Schwartz in Jerusalem, looks at the origins of the Jewish people, separating myth from documented historical fact. This is a reply both to the racist anti-semites and also to the official myth constructed by the Zionists. The article is written in four parts, the first part of which is being published today.
The Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was recently in the news saying: "Today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them." This is a clear expression of anti-Semitism. Across Europe, we are witnessing not just verbal violence but physical attacks on Jews. A report issued last year by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, titled "Fire and Broken Glass," describes the assaults on Jews and people presumed to be Jewish across Europe. Attackers shout racist slogans, throw stones at schoolchildren, at worshippers attending religious services, and at rabbis. Jewish homes, schools, and synagogues have been firebombed. Windows are smashed, and Jewish cemeteries desecrated with anti-Jewish slogans. French synagogues and Jewish schools, students, and homes have been attacked and firebombed. A synagogue in Marseilles was burned to the ground. In Paris, Jews have been attacked by groups of hooded men. According to police, metropolitan Paris saw something like a dozen anti-Jewish incidents a day in the first several months after Easter.
In the Ukraine, skinheads attacked Jewish workers and assaulted the director of a Jewish school. In Holland, demonstrators carrying swastikas and photos of Israel chanted "Sieg heil!" and "Jews into the sea!" In Salonika, the Holocaust Memorial was defaced. In Slovakia, Jewish cemeteries were firebombed. In Berlin, Jews were assaulted, swastikas daubed on Jewish memorials, and a synagogue spray-painted with the words "six million is not enough."
These are terrible expressions of hatred towards Jews that the working class movement must fight. Unfortunately, the defenders of the crimes committed by the Israeli State against the Palestinians are trying to argue that the condemnation of these crimes is the most dangerous expression of anti-Semitism. The aim of these Jewish right wing nationalists is not to fight anti-Semitism, but to justify the oppression of the Palestinians and connect this form of oppression with the imperialist "anti- terrorist" campaign that gives the US government the right to occupy and rob any country it declares to be in support of terror.
For the working class it is important to understand the difference between the ugly anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish) on the one hand and the struggle against imperialism and colonialism including that of the Israeli state on the other. For this reason a short history of the Jews and anti-Semitism, including the role of the Zionist movement, is important.
Contrary to the common belief pushed by Christian and Jewish Priests and Rabbis that anti-Semitism is rooted in the Jewish religion, it is in fact rooted in the social contradictions of class society, beginning with slave society. It is not the different sets of religious dogmas that have been fighting each other for thousands of years. It is the social class interests that have been fighting each other.
Since the history of humankind is based on the evolution of the forces of production, upon which a superstructure of politics, laws and ideas have sprung, we are obliged to seek the roots of the hatred of the Jews in the position of the Jews in different societies, namely their place in the different modes of production and the different stages of the evolution of these societies.
What are the origins of the Jews?
A very common assumption is that the history of the Jews began in the 18th century B.C. in the Middle Bronze period with the Hebrew nomads who settled in Canaan. According to the Jewish tradition, the father of the Jews was Abraham, who emigrated at that time from the Fertile Crescent, the part of the world where human civilization began less than 10,000 years ago. The Fertile Crescent encompasses the area between the banks of the Nile in Egypt, the Levant (the middle section where Israel/Palestine is located), and the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. Some six or seven thousand years ago, society evolved from hunting and gathering people who spent their whole day looking for food, to people who were able to domesticate livestock. This meant they could raise animals for food and milk production, their hides, and to plow the land in order to grow crops.
Once this occurred, there was a surplus of food. This was the first form of surplus value, which led to population growth and the division of labour. Society became divided between those that worked, such as craftsmen and warriors, and those who were liberated from work, such as scholars and priests. This in turn led to the growth of cities.
The Fertile Crescent is the result of three great rivers responsible for the fertility, and consequent desirability, of this area. The Nile is the longest river in the world. Without the Nile, Egypt would be a desert. In ancient times, 3% of Egypt was arable land and 97% was desert. The Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers run through what is today basically Iraq and Turkey - what historians have dubbed Mesopotamia, which is Greek for "in the middle of two rivers."
There is some debate whether the first civilization appeared in Egypt or in Mesopotamia (Sumer), but most anthropologists agree that writing originated in the Fertile Crescent.
Writing was a tremendous social development that allowed people to communicate much better and collect the necessary information for their activities - namely survival. It began with pictographs. A stick for example stood for "man." Later those pictures evolved into more abstract symbols which stood for phonetic sounds, until eventually there came about a system of three "letters," each representing a sound and combining together to make a word that conveyed an idea.
On the surface of it, the Jewish tradition makes sense. True, we do not have any explanation of why a group of people left behind Ur Kasdim, or Ur of the Chaldees, which has been excavated by archeologists in today's Iraq. Why did they leave an advanced civilization in order to settle in a much less advanced society that existed in Canaan? Why did they settle in a much less fertile part of the country, namely in Canaan or the center mountains? Most of us know of course that the Bible is not a book of history but a book of theology. For this reason we are ready to reason that the Bible, including the story of Abraham, is an attempt to prove the mythical connection between the Jews and the "Promised Land". We know that unlike Egypt, which is protected by the desert, Mesopotamia had no natural defenses. It was a giant flood plain sitting in the middle of the great migration pattern of all ancient peoples. Whatever conqueror came out of Asia or out of Europe set foot here. It had no natural defenses, no mountains, and no deserts - it was very desirable fertile land. For this reason we are ready to accept the possibility that the Hebrews became nomads after they escaped Mesopotamia for their lives.
What if this Saga is no more than a Myth?
The Jewish version of its history tells us that the next important chapter in the formation of the Jews is the exodus of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt.
In 1440 BC Egypt was ruled by Amenhotep II. It is here that the first mention of Hapiru is found in Egyptian texts. Some have argued that these are the Hebrews. However the word means "undesirables" and not "nomads", and was used to define various social groups that were disliked by the rulers of Egypt. The word "Hebrews" as a word used to describe people who lived in Egypt is not mentioned even once in any of the archeological findings.
In 1365 BC Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) came to power. He unsuccessfully tried to promote a form of "monotheism" ( actually a monolatrous form of religion) with the Sun god 'Re' as the creator. If Moses were an actual historical figure, the Bible indicates that this may be the time he would have been born. Yet the story of a slave rebellion and escape is not mentioned even once in any of the archeological findings.
Is it possible then that a group of Canaanite slaves escaped from Egypt in that period and went to Canaan? We know that there were Canaanite slaves in Egypt - the Egyptian word for "Canaanite" also meant "slave". We know that some slaves escaped. Is it plausible that a group of escaped slaves from Egypt were the original "Exodus" group, and that their story grew into the biblical story?
Some experts on this subject write: "As dim and uncertain as Hebrew history is in the age of the patriarchs, there is no question that the migration out of Egypt around 1250 BC is the single most important event in Hebrew history. More than anything else in history, this event gave the Hebrews an identity, a nation, a founder, and a name, used for the first time in the very first line of Exodus , the biblical account of the migration: "bene yisrael," "the children of Israel." (Richard Hooker, World civilization, Washington State University on the internet) .
These scholars are of course aware of the fact that there is no evidence for their assertions. The same Richard Hooker wrote a few line later: " How did this happen? How did this diverse set of tribal groups all worshipping a god they called "god," suddenly cohere into a more or less unified national group? What happened in Egypt that didn't happen with other foreigners living there?
Well, we really can't answer that question, for we have almost no account whatsoever of the Hebrews in Egypt, even in Hebrew history. For all the momentousness of the events of the migration for the Hebrews and the dramatic nature of the rescue, including plagues and catastrophes raining down on Egypt, the Egyptians do not seem to have noticed the Hebrews or to even know that they were living in their country. While we have several Egyptian records of foreign groups during the New Kingdom, they are records of actively expelling groups they feel are threatening or overly powerful. The Hebrews never appear in these records, nor do any of the events recounted in the Hebrew history of the event."
So what if all of it did not happen and this is a simple myth created much later?
According to the Bible, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. According to the biblical narrative, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years and eventually came to "the Promised Land" in Canaan (Palestine). Moses died before entering Canaan, and Joshua became the next leader, a brilliant leader who forced down the walls of Jericho. Yet archeological findings tell us that in the 13th century BC, the time of the story of the Bible, that Jericho did not have any walls around it. Not only this, but the many documents of the late Bronze Period ( 1550-1150 B.C.) that have been discovered give us detailed reports that the Egyptians, who were at that time very powerful, ruled Canaan as a colony and would not allow some Hapirus to conquer it without a major fight, yet nothing is mentioned in the findings in Egypt about such an event.
What then if this saga is simply a myth?
The story in the Bible of the Hebrews defeating the local Canaanites and settling in the area is clearly untrue. We have evidence that the Hebrews indeed lived in the central hill country and a few places near the Jordan River valley, trying to hold their own against other Canaanites and the powerful Philistines, some of which had chariots and warriors armed with iron weapons against which few could stand.
The Bible tells us of the great kings of the House of David. We are told that Solomon created the wealthiest and most powerful central government the Hebrews would ever see, and that he did so at an impossibly high cost. Land was given away to pay for his extravagances, and people were used as forced labor in Tyre in the north.
This story however is impossible. The southern part of the mountains (Judea, where King David and Solomon ruled ) was much less developed than the northern part – the Shomron, where the kingdom of Israel existed. Were these two kingdoms to be united in the 10th century BC, as we are told, it could only be under the rulers of Israel and not the rulers of the more primitive Judea.
We know that King David did exist. In 1993, a stone was discovered at a digging site in Dan with Aramaic writing that tells the story of an Aramaic king that defeated the kings of the House of King David.
But if we have evidence that King David was a real figure, the story of his great kingdom is clearly a myth. Similarly we know that King Solomon existed. However, he could not be the builder of a great temple for the Jewish god. Even the Bible tells us something very different. The Bible tells us that King Solomon did not worship only Yahweh but many other gods. Thus monotheism was not the common ideology even in the time of King Solomon. In his time Yahweh, so it seems, was one god among many.
But king Solomon loved many foreign women, together with
the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites,
Edomites, Zidonians, [and] Hittites;
Of the nations [concerning] which the LORD said to the
children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall
they come in to you: [for] surely they will turn away your
heart after their gods: Solomon cleaved to these in love.
And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three
hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.
For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, [that] his wives
turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not
perfect with the LORD his God, as [was] the heart of David his
For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the
Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.
(First Kings 11 )
Not only this, but also the story that the Jews were monotheists (actually monolatrous) since the 13th or even the 18th century BC does not stand any serious test. Even the Bible is full of references telling us that the Hebrews worshipped other gods like El (Saturn), Jupiter, and Venus (Astarte). We will mention only a few of them:
The story of a ram in the scene of the purported sacrifice of Isaac points to Jupiter. The ram was the animal representing that planet. We should keep in mind that Malki-Zedek, the name of the High Priest of Jerusalem in the days of the Patriarch Abraham, indicates that Jupiter (in Hebrew “Zedek”) was the figure around whom the cult of that city was based. Malki-Zedek means “Jupiter is my lord (king)”. Many of the Psalms reflect ideas found in astral religion. The psalms “Hallel” may have been adopted from the “pagan” worship of the Morning Star. The visions of the Lord traversing the sky with rays streaming from his body, as in the book of Habbakuk, are not monotheistic. These passages, and the passages in the books of Tora telling us of sacrifices to the Supreme Being, contradict the belief that the Jews were monotheists.
As a matter of fact, not only monotheism but also Pantheism (many gods with a central god like the Greeks believed) could not appear in peoples' minds prior to a stage where the development of the forces of production allowed for the appearance of city-states, kingdoms and empires. In the 13th century BC, we can find traces of the Hebrews in Canaan, and there was no center or city for the worship of Yahweh as there was no central government in the form of a kingdom. Each tribe had its own gods. This is common knowledge amongst the historians of that period:
"The Hebrews themselves, however, do not seem to have settled comfortably into the Yahweh religion. According to Hebrew history, the Hebrews regularly abandon the Yahweh religion for local cults, particularly Canaanite cults. The Canaanite religion focused on the god Baal, and the Hebrews frequently disassemble their Yahweh altars and build Baal altars. Those Hebrews that settle in the Canaanite cities literally disappear into the Canaanite religion; the Yahweh religion seems to have been largely maintained among the nomadic groups in the hill country" (Richard Hooker, World civilization, Washington State University on the internet) .
From where did the Jews come to Canaan, and when?
Scholars have debated this question for many years. This however, is not only a leading question but a misleading one.
Archeologists who accepted the story of the occupation of Canaan by Joshua tried to discover remnants of Hebrew culture in the ruins of the cities Jerhicho, Biet El, Lachish, Hatzor. They found many interesting things about the period but none leading to the early Israelites. These cities are located along the shores and in the rich valleys far away from the forested mountains where the early Israelites lived.
The Israelites lived on the mountains between Israel valley and the Valley of Beersheba, a part of the land that came under Israeli occupation in 1967. Here the Archeologists found the remnants of many villages.
These villages are much more primitive than the Canaanites cities. They contained no palaces, no elaborate jewellery, and some samples of very simple pottery. These villages indicate a stage of social development between that of raising sheep and farming - a stage that combines the two . It indicates the beginning of permanent settlements that could revert back to raising sheep during bad times for farming.
These people had their religious beliefs as well. Yahweh, however, could not be a god that Abraham brought with him from Ur. According to the biblical story, Moses was introduced to the cult of Yahweh after he escaped Egypt and was hiding in Sinai. Nor could this god be the same god of the late Hebrew kings. Yahweh could be only a local god, one among many.
This god of the 13th century BC was an anti monarchist. As recounted in the books Samuel I and Samuel II, the Hebrews approached Samuel, the "judge" of Israel, and demanded a king. The account makes clear that both Samuel and Yahweh considered the desire for a king to be an act of disobedience towards Yahweh; the Hebrew people, according to Samuel, would greatly suffer for this disobedience. The conflict between Yahweh and the Hebrew monarchs brings to mind another similar event that took place in Egypt - that of the Pharaoh Akhenaton, who initiated the worship of Ra, the Sun god, as the chief god and was killed for it by the priests.
From where did the Hebrews then take their Mythology?
The mythological elements we find in the Bible are part of the mythology of the entire region. Here we have to point out another interesting discovery. The wave of nomads settling down in the 13th century BC to a more permanent place was not the first wave of this type but in fact the third.
The first wave was in the Early Bronze Period (3500-2200 BC). It ended around 2200-2000 BC, when the settlers resumed the lives of the nomads. The second wave took place during the Middle Bronze Period (2000-1550 BC) and ended after a crisis in the Late Bronze Period (1550-1150 BC). This pattern, in opposition to the story in the Bible (that tries to leave the impression that the Israelites destroyed the Canaanites cities), indicates that during the time of crisis of the Canaanite cities the Hebrew settlers were dependant on these cities and then became nomads once again. It is possible that the latest wave of Canaanites settlers that became the Hebrews learned their myths from the previous two waves.
Yahweh becomes the only Ruler
This conflict, that eventually leads to the victory of the kings over the caste of priests, would form the basis of a massive change in the nature of the Hebrew religion.
Later on, in the 8th and the 7th centuries BC, the last kings of the two kingdoms realized that the historical development of the large empires was against the independence of small states. Slave society, like other societies in history, suffered from a major contradiction. As the economy was expanding and becoming a regional economy, it suffered from the existence of small states that blocked this extension. Every empire was driven to try and control the entire known economy. In order to accomplish this the smaller states had to become colonies. This process would reach its peak only during the Roman Empire which would be not only the highest stage but the final stage of the mode of production based on slave labor.
In 722 BC, the Kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians. They forced many of the native inhabitants to relocate to other parts of their empire. At the same time they sent Assyrians to relocate in the conquered territory. The new people who settled in Israel were the Samaritans. This new population in Samaria adapted themselves to local conditions. The evidence for this is that they at first were worshipping Yahweh as well as other gods; within a couple centuries, they would be worshipping Yahweh exclusively. This caused a major schism in the religion of Yahweh: a schism between the Jews, who changed some aspects of their religion, and the Samaritans.
The Israelites who were exiled disappeared as a separate group from history permanently. They are referred to as "the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel". The reason for this is not difficult to grasp. The Assyrians did not relocate the Israelites in one place, but scattered them in small populations all over the Middle East. They were farmers who integrated themselves easily into the other cultures.
The writing on the wall was clear for the rulers of Judea. The lack of a strong centralized state, as in the case of the Israelites, helped the Assyrians to conquer the Northern Kingdom with its many gods.
Yahweh would have to change his political perspective. From the image of an anti-monarchist during the time of Samuel, he would have to become the god of a strong monarchy. This however, contrary to the story of the Bible, did not happen under David or under Solomon, but three hundred years later. It is in the writing of the Bible in the seventh century BC, more than 500 years after God supposedly spoke to Moses, that Yahweh became the chief and only God of the Hebrews of Judea. The Bible was rearranged at that time to explain Jewish mythology from the ideological point of view of the royal priests of Judea. These priests claimed that there was a united kingdom under the house of David in order to justify an attempt to organize such a kingdom.
In 701 BC, the Assyrian Sennacherib gained territory from Judah, and the Jews would have suffered the same fate as the Israelites had it not been for the fact that by 625 BC, the Babylonians, under Nabopolassar, reasserted control over Mesopotamia and created a power vacuum. The Jewish king, Josiah, sought to extend his territory in this power vacuum. In his attempt to create a strong center he came armed with the ideology of the one and only supreme God, bringing monotheism as well as the major theme of the Bible - worship only one God or be punished and be exiled..
The Bible tells us that Josiah rediscovered the Book of the Laws of Moses and destroyed all the other cults. Thus, he did the right thing in the eyes of God.
And it came to pass in the eighteenth year of king Josiah,
[that] the king sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, the son of
Meshullam, the scribe, to the house of the LORD, …
And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, I
have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD. And
Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it…
And Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, Hilkiah
the priest hath delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before
And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of
the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.
And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the
son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Shaphan the
scribe, and Asahiah a servant of the king's, saying,
Go ye, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and
for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found:
for great [is] the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against
us, because our fathers have not hearkened to the words of this
book, to do according to all that which is written concerning
And the king sent, and they gathered to him all the elders
of Judah and of Jerusalem.
And the king went up into the house of the LORD, and all
the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him,
and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both
small and great: and he read in their ears all the words of the
book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD.
And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before
the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments,
and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all [their] heart
and all [their] soul, to perform the words of this covenant
that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the
And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the
priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to
bring forth out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that
were made for Baal, and for the grove, and for all the host of
heaven: and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of
Kidron, and carried the ashes of them to Beth-el.
And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of
Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the
cities of Judah, and in the places around Jerusalem; them also
that burned incense to Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and
to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.
And he brought out the grove from the house of the LORD,
without Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the
brook Kidron, and stamped [it] small to powder, and cast the
powder of it upon the graves of the children of the people.
And he broke down the houses of the sodomites that [were]
by the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the
And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah,
and defiled the high places where the priests had burnt
incense, from Geba to Beersheba, and broke down the high
places of the gates that [were] in the entrance of the gate of
Joshua the governor of the city, which [were] on a man's left
hand at the gate of the city.
So the king did the right thing according to the priests of Yahweh. However, he was surprised to find out that doing the right thing in the eyes of the supreme God does not mean doing the right thing in history.
King Josiah went to war with Egypt and was defeated. The grand desires of this king were just that - grand desires and illusions. It is true of course, that when a progressive class relies on the laws of history it will likely lead to a victory. However, King Josiah was not the leader of a progressive class, nor did he rely on the laws of history. He acted against the laws of history and was defeated.
Judah soon fell victim to the power struggles between the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians. When Josiah's son, Jehoahaz, became king (put into power by the Assyrians), the king of Egypt, Necho, rushed into Judah and deposed him. Judah then became a tributary state of Egypt.
After the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians in 605 BC, Judah became a tributary state of Babylon. Then after the Babylonians suffered a defeat in 601 BC, the king of Judah, Jehoiakim, defected to the Egyptians. So the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, occupied Judah in 597 BC. King Jehoiachin, handed the city of Jerusalem over to Nebuchadnezzar, who then appointed a new king over Judah - Zedekiah. In line with Mesopotamian practice, Nebuchadnezzar deported around 10,000 Jews to his capital in Babylon; all the deportees were drawn from professionals, the wealthy, and craftsmen. Ordinary people were allowed to stay in Judah. This deportation was the beginning of the Exile. This period, which began in 597 BC but is traditionally dated at 586 BC, is called the Exile (Diaspora) in Jewish history; and ended in 538 BC when the Persians overthrew the Chaldeans.
In exile the wealthy Jews set up separate communities and developed international commerce. At the same time they developed their religion according to their new situation. The exile could not be explained by Hebrew theology, because it was built on the promise of Yahweh to protect the Hebrews and use them for his purposes in human history. Their defeat and the loss of the land promised to them by Yahweh seemed to imply that their faith in this promise was misplaced.
The new Jewish God would no longer be a local god of tribal wars over land . The new Jewish religion of the period after the exile in Babylon would include elements from the new Persian religion.
This religion, called Zoroastrianism (in Greek, Zarathustra is called "Zoroaster"), was based on the claim that the universe was dualistic, and that it was made up of two distinct parts. One was good and light and the other evil and dark. Cosmic history was simply the epic battle between these two divine forces. At the end of time, a climactic battle would decide once and for all which of the two would dominate the universe. Human beings, in everything they did, participated in this struggle. All the gods and religions were also part of this epic, almost eternal battle. If the Lord of the Rings comes to mind you may be justified in doing so. This dualism was integrated into the new Jewish religion.
For the early Hebrews, the belief was that only Yahweh dominated the universe. After the exile, the new Jewish priests adopted the Persian idea that the universe was composed of two diametrically opposing forces; one good, and the other evil. Now there was an evil force, Satan, who opposed Yahweh as expressed in the story of Job.
Another new element that was adopted was the belief in a dualistic afterlife. Before the Exile, the Hebrews believed that after death the soul went to a house of dust which they called "Sheol," to abide for a brief time before fading completely from existence. This belief was identical to all other Semitic versions of the afterlife. The Persians though, believed that the souls of the good would reunite with the principle of good in eternal bliss; the souls of the evil would reunite with the principle evil to suffer until the final defeat of evil. This view of the afterlife explains suffering in this life, such as the Exile; cosmic justice is apparent only at one's death rather than during one's life.
Before the Exile, Judah and Israel were kingdoms; now Judah became a theological state and at the same time a Persian colony. Yahweh had finally found his place in this world. He became the Supreme Being and Creator of everything and at the same time a servant in the service of the Persian Empire. Under the direction of Zerubabbel and later Ezra, the temple was rebuilt. The new Hebrew society was a place where non-Jews, especially those with foreign religions, were persecuted and expelled. During the Persian period and later, Judah was the state where Yahweh and only Yahweh was worshipped.
For two hundred years, while Persia dominated all of the Middle East and Egypt, Palestine was a tributary state of Persia. After Alexander of Macedon conquered Persia in 332 BC, Palestine became a Greek colony. The Greek empire would last no longer than Alexander's brief life; and after his death his generals divided his empire. One general, Antigonus and then later Ptolemy, inherited Egypt; another, Seleucus, inherited the Middle East and Mesopotamia. After two centuries of peace under the Persians, the Hebrew state found itself once more caught in the middle of a power struggle between two great empires: the Seleucid state with its capital in Syria to the north and the Ptolemaic state, with its capital in Egypt to the south. Once more Judah would be conquered first by one, and then by the other, as it shifted from being a Seleucid vassal state to a Ptolemaic vassal state. Between 319 and 302 BC Jerusalem changed hands seven times.
In 168 B.C. a Jewish revolt under the Maccabees in support of Rome in its war against the Greeks defeated the Seleucids. For a brief time, Judah became a semi - independent state and eventually a Roman colony.
During this period the Jews lived in several areas including Judah, Mesopotamia and other parts of the Middle East, and in Egypt and other parts of North Africa and in Asia. The dispersion of the Jews began during the Exile in Babylon. Large, powerful groups of Jews lived all throughout the Persian empire, then later in the Hellenistic kingdoms and the Roman Empire.
Since it was possible under the Greeks for foreigners to become citizens in the polis, it became possible all throughout the Middle East for Hebrews and others to become citizens of states other than Judah. This is vital for understanding the Jewish dispersion; for the rights of citizenship (or near-citizenship, called polituemata) allowed Jews to remain outside of Judea and still thrive.
In 63 BC, Judea became a protectorate of Rome. The Jewish state came to an end in 70 AD, when the Romans defeated the Jewish rebellions. However, the Jewish Diaspora ("Diaspora" = "dispersion, scattering") had begun long before, at least since the Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 BC, and Nebuchadnezzar deported the Judeans in 597 and 586 BC to Babylon. Another group of Judeans fled to Egypt, where they settled in the Nile delta. From 597 BC onwards, there were three distinct groups of Hebrews: a group in Babylon and other parts of the Middle East, a group in Judea, and another group in Egypt. A large number of Jews in Egypt became mercenaries on an island called Elephantine in Upper Egypt. From now on the history of the Jews is the history of the Diaspora and the changing role of Yahweh.