Q. Are Jews and Bani-Isra-eel the same? The Quran says many time ‘ Oh, Bani-israal, but never ‘ Oh Jews’.
A. The Prophet Yakov/Yakub (pbuh) was given the name Israel in 1555 BCE by an angel. It means “one who has struggled for God[‘s blessing].” The children of Yakov (pbuh) were called the Children of Israel. Yehudah (pbuh) was the name of the leading son.
Orginally “Jew” would have meant a descendant of Judah (pbuh) son of Jacob (pbuh), but rarely used.
The Children of Israel were early forced to go to Egypt. Upon the death of Yosef (pbuh) in 1451 BCE they began to be forced into slavery. In 1306 BCE, Moses (pbuh) led them out of Egypt where the tribes of Yosef, Gad, and Reuben (pbuh) settled east of the Jordan river. In 1265 BCE, Joshua (pbuh) led the rest of the Children of Israel into lands west of the Jordan river.
After being ruled by various judges, the Children of Israel made a kingdom known as “Israel”, first under Saul (1061 BCE) and then David (1052 BCE) (pbu them). King David (pbuh) conquered the Amalekites (at that time in southern Israel and Sinai), Edom (southern Jordan and Hejez), Moab & Ammon (Jordan) and Aram (Lebanon and eastern Syria). King David (pbuh) forced these people to conform to monotheism. There were thousands converts during this time, and most people adopted at least outwardly Israel’s monotheism. Under Solomon (pbuh) 1015-979 BCE, the kingdom of Israel grew to its greatest extent with treaties with nations as far as Africa, Arabia (Saba, Yemen), India, and Greece.
In 979 BCE, after the death of Solomon (pbuh), the kingdom of Israel was split into two. The northern clans called themselves the “kingdom of Israel” with Samaria (next to Nablus today) as their capital The southern clans called themselves the “king of Judah” because they were located primarily on the ancestral lands of the tribe of Judah. Jerusalem was their capital. The northern kingdom of Israel fell into idolatry and prophets (pbu them) were sent to bring them back. The prophets (pbu them) were largely unsuccessful, and in a series of wars with Tiglath-Pileser III and later Shalmanezer V, the northern clans were deported to Assyria between 744-718 BCE. The southern kingdom of Judah also fell into idolatry, but to a lesser extent. Prophets (pbu them) were sent to bring them back, and eventually the kings repented. However it was too late. In 587 BCE, Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar and the southern tribes were deported to Babylon.
The word “Jew” was used generally for the first time in Babylon, meaning “monotheist”
In 537 BCE, Cyrus conquered Bablylon, and as part of his reforms, allowed the Children of Israel to return to the Holy Land. The exile of the kingdom of Judah had been about 50 years (70 since the Temple service ceased). The exile of the kingdom of Israel had been about 200 years. The religious state of the kingdom of Judah and the shortness of their exile meant their culture and religion was strong. This caused the word “Jew” to become synonymous with monotheist. Cyrus sent four governors to rule what was once Solomon’s (pbuh) kingdom as a vassal state for Persia. They were Sanballat (Ethiopia+Coast), Tobiah (Syria+trans-Jordan), Zerubavel (Jerusalem) and Gashmu (Arabia). These were all royal families of the Children of Israel.
In 521 BCE, Zerubavel was given the right to rebuild Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, while the other three governors were required to support the religious service in Jerusalem. Zerubavel rededicated the altar in Jerualem and this is the last time all 12 tribes of the Children of Israel are mentioned. Later there was a falling out. To assist in their rule, three of the governors intermarried with local nobility. In 458 BCE, Ezra (pbuh), a priest and scribe, led a group of religious Children of Israel from Babylon to Israel. He objected to the influence of the foreign wives on the nobility.
After Nehemiah, the word “Jew” became to mean “those who did not intermarry with foreign wives”
In 445 BCE, Nehemiah (pbuh) ordered a gathering outside Jerusalem asking all the Children of Israel to renounce idolatry and divorce their foreign wives. Anyone who did not would be erased from the book of genealogy and they would be cut off from the Children of Israel. This caused a backlash with each governor who already resented that they had to support the Temple in Jerusalem. As my research shows, each created its own form of worship. Sanballat and his intermarried people were called the “guardians [of the traditions of God]” called “Shomrim”, known today as Samaritans. Tobiah and his intermarried people were called the “keepers [of the traditions of God]” called “Notzrim”, known later as Nasaara. Gashmu’s people were called “dwellers [in the land of God]” called “Toshav”, known later as tsabi or Sabians. Erza and Nehemiah’s people were called “Yehudim”.
In 332 BCE, Alexander the Great came [almost] to Jerusalem and honored Shimon HaTzadik. The Samaritans and the people of Tobiah petitioned him to give Jerusalem to them, but Alexander confirmed the “Jews” to continue to control the worship at Jerusalem. Hellenism began to greatly influence the Middle East. The vast majority of the people of Sanballat left the Torah traditions, with only a few left, centered around Mount Gerizim. Tobiah’s people split in half. Those who sided with Syria became Hellenized and left Torah. Those who sided with Egypt took to the caves and became monks after the Ptolomies no longer had influence in their land. Some began to fall into idolatry. The people of Gashmu fell into idolatry, although maintained some “Jewish” practices. The Jews who mixed Hellenism with Judaism were called Sadducees. Those who didn’t, and remained deeply religious, were called Pharisees.
In 159 BCE, with the rise of Rome, there was a resurgence of traditional Judaism. The Maccabees expelled the Hellenist leadership from the Holy Land and established an independent state. They were immediately recognized by Rome, who saw them as an ally against Syria. The last Hellenized priest Onias IV fled to Egypt where he made a Temple there and also in Arabia for “God fearing” non-Jews to offer sacrifices and participate in a kind of “Jewish” practices. The next generation of Maccabees, calling themselves the Hasmoneans, envisioned they would restore Solomon’s kingdom. They began to subdue to provinces of Galiliee, trans-Jordan and Arabia. They forced all their inhabitants to keep full Mosaic tradition. They called themselves “Israel”. The Romans with a smaller vision of their future, called their kingdom “Judea.”
In Jesus’ (pbuh) time, the word “Jew” meant “those who support the leadership in Jerusalem”
In 37 BCE, one of the mixed Tobiad / Edomite (Arab) families included Herod. Herod had been trained in Rome, and was confirmed by Rome to rule Judea. Being of Edomite lineage himself, he sought to remove any distinction between Edomite (Idūmaeas) and Jew (Iudaeus). Some of the greatest families in the priesthood and nobility were of mix ancestry Arab and Jewish, and the most zealous of these during the period of Jesus (pbuh) were called “Jews”. Because there were so many new people included, the people no longer called themselves “Children of Israel” rather they began to use the term “Nation of Israel”
By 70 CE, Rome saw no more need for an independent ally against Syria. They increased taxes and harsh governance of Judea. Eventually the Jews revolted and almost succeeded to throw off Roman rule. Those who had benefited most from Hasmoean and later Herodian rule became zealots and led the revolt against Rome. Eventually after many, many losses on both sides, Rome conquered Jerusalem. However as Josephus explains, Jerusalem was a symbol and light to the entire region, as Athens was to the entire Greek world. From Egypt to Arabia, from Asia minor to Persia, there began a second revolt against Rome. And in 135 CE, the last rebellion supported by Persia and its leader Bar Kockba was utterly crushed. The Romans, tied of zealots and afraid of revolt, placed a Pharisaic Jew in charge of the Sanhedrin and declared Pharisaic Judaism (later to be known as Rabbinic Judaism) to be the only official form of Judaism. This ruling was reversed and the Sanhedrin abolished in 353 CE, shortly after Rome adopted Christianity.
By Bar Kockba’s time, and for the next thousand years, “Jew” meant “those who oppose Rome”.
There were pockets of resistance to Rome. It started in 470 CE when the “Jews” of Persia revolted against the Mazdakites who wished to take their children and make them into Zoroastrians. This was the first, short lived independant regime, until its leaders Mar Zutra and others were crucified at the entrance to Mahoza. A relative of Mar Zutra and claimed descendant of Herod, Dhu Nuwas, tried to revolt against Rome in Arabia. He waged war on those he thought sympathic to Rome. His people were Arabs who had been practicing Sadducean Judaism for centuries, mixed with idolatry. In 525 CE, Dhu Nuwas and his people were crushed by Rome through their Ethiopian allies. The next decades saw a series of uprisings of Samaritans against the Romans.
In Muhammad’s (pbuh) time, “Jew” meant “those who kept Sadducean Judaism”.
In Arabia, for centuries there had been some measure of freedom to practice Judaism. The Tubba’ kings claimed descent from Tobiah and Herod. They established “Jewish” worship based on Sadducean Judaism, Hellenism and by that time idolatry. They controlled a portion of the spice road and became wealthy. When the spice trade collapsed, the Tubba’ dynasty lost all power. The Jews and Christians of Arabia used religion as a political weapon, insisting that one must become either Jewish or Christian, meaning to side with Persia or Rome, and left no middle ground. The Qur’an never says ‘ Oh Jews’ because it means “those who keep Judaism” by choice, and not a people. When the Prophet (pbuh) came, he wished to bring the entire religion to Monotheism. The Arabs who kept this mix of Sadducean Judaism, as well as their priestly allies, fought the reforms of the Prophet (pbuh). They wished to hide the message of a simple Abrahamic faith. The Prophet (pbuh) was instructed to annul their obligation to Moasic Judaism, and replace it with something better, easier.
The Qur’an says the “Jews” of the Qur’an believed Ezra was the son of God. (Surely Allah SWT is above that). Al Jahiz refers to a Jewish group termed Saduqiyya (Sadducees) which are found in the Yemen, Syria, and Byzantine territory. He says their name stems from “a man whose name was Zadok (the student of Antigonus of Sokho), and that they held that ‘Uzayr was the son of God. Ibn Hazm records ”Al Saduqiyyh: This sect associates itself with a person called Saduq (Zadok). Differing with all other Jews, they regard Uzayr (Ezra) as the son of God. They live in Yemen. (Ibn Hazm’s Kitab al-Fasl fi al-Milal wa al-Ahwa wa al-Nihal)
As the Prophet (pbuh) struggled to bring the entire religion to Monotheism, the Muslims were originally thought to be Jews. Not until 638 CE, when the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, and agreed to the Christian request to create a shrine on the Dome of the Rock — in fact, largely because of this event — were they recognized as something else.
From 642-833 CE, due to direct intervention of the Caliphate, “Jew” was redefined to mean “Rabbinic Judaism”
The Sadducean Jews in Arabia continued to revolt against the Prophet (pbuh). They sided with the Kharijites against the Caliphate. Samaritan Jews in the Holy Land continued to revolt against Rome. Shortly after the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, and according to Sebeos after another plot to cause bloodshed in Jerusalem, Caliph ‘Umar (pbuh) decided to put an end to all these revolts. In 642 CE, he deposed the Exilarch Heman (I propose same as Abdullah ibn Saba) and appointed Bustanai, a representative of Rabbinic Judaism from the academic schools in Babylon, to be Exilarch. He determined Rabbinic Jews to be different from the other sects, more religious, less hedonistic, offering prayer, charity and learning of Torah as required by Islamic law, but most of all more pacifist. For the first time in almost seven centuries, since Queen Salome Alexandra (141–67 BCE), did Rabbinic/Pharisaic Judaism have political leadership of the Jews. And now they were the only authorized form of Judaism throughout the Islamic empire for the next two centuries.
Khazaria and the last of the “Judaizers”
The non-Rabbinic Jews tried to find autonomy outside the Islamic Empire. They succeed in forming a Jewish state in Khazaria from 600CE to 800CE. This was encouraged for a while by the Romans, because it limited the advance of the Umayyad Caliphate and its Abbasid successor. But eventually it was destroyed by the Rus (Russians) and held up in the West as the last example of the militant “Jew” who fought against Christian Rome. The creation of that state was called “Judaizing”, a charge that transfered to Rabbinic Jews without reason, after the disappearance of the Khazars.
Caliph Al-Ma’mun (813-33 CE) abolished the decree giving Rabbinic Judaism exclusive leadership throughout the Islamic empire. The academies remained in Babylon (Iraq), but the Exilarchs and many Rabbinic leaders found more favorable conditions in Egypt and later in Spain. The Crusades revived interest in the “zealot Jews” and the “judaizing” opponents of Rome, and by extension Christianity. Stories dating back to the independent kingdoms of Dhu Nuwas and Khazaria found new life in wild tales of the lost ten tribes.
Europe meets Rabbinic “Jews” effectively for first time
In 1492, Spain fearing that the recently conquered Jews would betray them to the Muslims, expelled all Jews from their lands. Many traveled to the Ottoman empire. Many to France and later Germany and then Ukraine. Some to the Holy Land. For the first time Europe had contact with Rabbinic Jews and it took four hundred years for Europeans to realize that these Jews were very different from the image of Jews they had from the New Testament, or legends of warrior Jews beyond the Carpathian mountains or Arabian deserts.
For three hundred years, Rabbinic Jews grew up in Europe and their counterparts, along with Karaite and to a smaller extent Samaritan Jews, grew up under the Ottoman empire. Napolean, with his conquests, brought these both together. The oriental Jews were originally called Franks, after the French Napolean who had put them on the road to emancipation and facilitated their traveling in Europe. For the first time Europe began to see much more Oriental Jews, and the Muslims came in contact with the Western, Enlightenment Jews. The Jews had been so much of an outcast in Europe that emancipation was welcomed by many. Secularization and French Laïcité had become the new Hellenism, and whole communities were leaving Torah. Some following the logical result of this trend became political reformers, social reformers, liberal activists and some became champions of Communism.
The Jewish leadership declared this a crisis, but there was much disagreement on what to do. This resulted in Rabbinical Judaism breaking into three movements. The path of learning, originally based in Lithuania, stressed a sheltered Torah lifestyle safeguarded from any outside influence. The path of the mystic, originally based in Poland and Ukraine, which stressed the importance of being happy in adversity through a spiritual reading of Torah. The path of the nationalist, inspired by the nationalism of the 1800s, which sought a home for the Jewish people. Today, all three of these types are called “Jews”.