|“Then said the LORD unto me, What
seest thou, Jeremiah? And I said, Figs; the good figs, very good; and
the evil, very evil, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil.” Jer. 24:3
doubt, one of the most perplexing questions in the realm of Biblical
and secular anthropology can be summed up in four words; “What is a
Jew?” Thousands of sermons have been preached about the Jews without
ever defining what a Jew is. A plethora of books and articles have been
written about the people known as Jews, but most authors fail to give a
thorough identification of the people whom they are writing
about. Authors, ministers and professors take for granted that the vast
majority of their readers and listeners know to whom they are referring
when they make a reference to the people known as Jews. Everyone who has
the slightest knowledge of Scripture realize that the Jews have some
connection with the various characters of Old and New Testament
history. It would be rare to find an individual in a western society
that does not have at least an elementary idea as to what a Jew
is. Church-goers and professing Christians who are regularly under the
influence of pulpit preaching by evangelical ministers, most likely
would have a more familiarity with the term yet still lack a thorough
understanding of ‘who’ and ‘what’ is a Jew.
In certain religious surroundings, tempers have flared and accusations have been made against those who would dare to question the respective party line position regarding this subject. Among some Jews and non-Jews alike, the very discussion of the Jewish question sparks a volatile explosion. Usually rhetoric takes precedence over logic and facts are overruled by thumb worn clichés. For the last fifty years most evangelical church goers have been bombarded with sermons that have included the following subjects;
- The establishment of the Zionist state in Palestine as being the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
- The blessing and cursing of non-Jews based on their treatment of the Jews according to Genesis 12:3.
- The return of the Jews to Palestine as the greatest sign of the soon return of Jesus Christ to rapture Christians to heaven.
- The people known as Jews throughout the earth are “God’s chosen people” and constitute all twelve tribes of Israel.
These and many more related topics have brought about a climate of prophetic confusion and religious fervor that has resulted in false hopes and added to the political turmoil in the Middle East. Most ministers and Bible scholars have failed to do adequate research to acquire an understanding of the origin and history of the people known as Jews. It is our purpose in this treatise to give an unbiased and honest presentation of facts as to the identification of the Jewish people. Our primary sources will be the inspired Word of God, the Jewish Encyclopedia and historical accounts by Jewish authors.
The word ‘Jew’ is a contraction of the name Judah, who was the fourth son of the Biblical patriarch Jacob/Israel. It has also come to refer to non- Israelite people who over the centuries have adopted the religion of Judaism, and therefore have assumed identification with Biblical Judahites. The commonly accepted yet limited definition of the word ‘Jew’ as found in the Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia is as follows:
“Jew (joo). Heb. Yehudi specifically refers to a descendant of Judah; the name is applied to members of the tribe of that name or to those of the country of Judah. I Chron. 9:3 indicates that members of other tribes resided in Jerusalem in Judah. Many from the seceded Northern Kingdom went over to Judah to worship the true God. The Jews who finished rebuilding the temple in the reign of Darius I probably included members of various tribes, for they sacrificed twelve goats for the twelve tribes (Ezra 6:14-17). Therefore after the Babylonian captivity the term was used for all Israelites, since Judah then formed the larger part of the returning remnant.” 1
The above definition addresses the most basic understanding of the term ‘Jew’, yet omits the vast evidence of Biblical details that offers a more complete and accurate comprehension. From the Wycliffe definition, one gets the incorrect impression that ever since the time of the Babylonian captivity that all Israelites are now known as Jews. This and other such incomplete definitions have led to a pathetic and false basis of theological belief on this all important subject. Fortunately, Webster’s New World Dictionary (1968 edition) adds the following important point; “A person whose religion is Judaism.” One Jewish writer defined a Jew as “anyone who perceives himself to be Jewish.” This leaves the door open for any convert from any religious or ethnic background who accepts in any degree the religion of Judaism, to become a Jew.
Another description by Philip S. Bernstein is as follow:
“Jews are members of a group held together for more than 3,000 years by a common faith and a common history. Many persons believe that Jews form a nation. Others claim that they make up a religious group only. But there is no single definition of a Jew on which all Jews agree. A person born into a Jewish family, of a Jewish mother, is a Jew. Even if he does not practice Judaism, the religion of the Jews, he remains a Jew. But if he voluntarily gives up his religion to join another religious group, he ceases to be a Jew. If a man is converted to Judaism, he becomes a Jew by religion. His children will be considered Jews by birth if he marries a Jew. If a woman is converted to Judaism, her children will be considered Jews by birth”.2
In order for the serious Bible student to have a clear comprehension of where the Jews fit into the overall account of sacred and secular history, it is imperative to have a thorough definition of their ancient origins. Without tracing the trek of their travels, their trials and triumphs, and their ethnic and religious genesis, it would be difficult to properly identify who the modern Jewish people are today. When speaking of the Jews, who were of pure Judahite stock, one must consider that the original progenitor of that genealogy lived more than 3,000 years ago. From the historical evidence presented by Jewish authors, the people known today as Jews have a marked difference from those people of Old Testament antiquity, though they bear the same name. In considering the centuries of time, devastating wars, migrations, both friendly and unfriendly encounters with other peoples, the adoption of various cultural and religious customs, it is quite obvious how today’s Jews bear little resemblance to Judah, the man from whom they derive their name. Many modern Jews have no genetic or blood tie connection with the patriarch Judah whatsoever.
In an attempt to grasp a full and comprehensive understanding of our subject under consideration, it is necessary to explore the following topics from Biblical and secular sources.
- Full blood Judahites
- Mixed blood Judahite/Canaanite Jews
- Religious proselytes to Judaism
- Forced conversion to Judaism
- Jewish by geographical location and religion
- National conversion to Judaism
THE HISTORICAL PROGRESSION OF JEWISH IDENTITY
I. FULL BLOOD JUDAHITES
In the Biblical account of God’s election of an earthly people whereby to execute His divine plan for man, the family of Abraham was chosen to be the instrument to serve God’s eternal purpose. Abraham the Hebrew was called by God to leave his homeland of Ur of the Chaldees and to seek the city “whose builder and maker is God” (Gen. 12:1-3; Heb. 11:8-10). To Abraham and his wife Sarah was born the promised son, Isaac, in which God declared “in Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Gen. 21:12). To Isaac and Rebekah were born two sons, Jacob and Esau who struggled for the birthright while in their mother’s womb. Through the prophet Malachi, the Lord spoke to the family of Jacob/Israel and said; “I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau. . .” (Mal 1:1-3). The Apostle Paul further explains God’s reasoning in His divine choice by declaring “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:11-13). This should remove all question on man’s part as to the alleged unfairness of God’s choice, because the purpose and plan of God in the earth stands by God’s election and not by the works of men.
To Jacob and his wives were born twelve sons, of which Judah was the fourth. Of Judah and his offspring it was promised that the chief ruler would come. In Jacob’s blessing to his son Judah he prophesied; “the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:10). The scribe in I Chronicles 5:2 wrote: “For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler.”
In tracing the pure bloodline of the family of Judah we are first confronted in the Biblical record with his unlawful act of taking a Canaanite wife unto himself. We will deal with the consequences of this union in the section entitled; Mixed Blood Judahite/Canaanite.
After the death of Judah’s two oldest sons to whom Tamar was married to, she was promised the third son who was not yet of marriageable age. In her impatience in waiting for the third son, the Scripture gives a vivid account how she posed as a harlot in successfully seducing her ex-father-in-law Judah. “Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house. And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah's wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep. And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him. (Gen. 38:11-18).
Even though the Scriptural account uses the term “daughter-in-law” in reference to Tamar at this particular time in her sexual affair with Judah, technically there was no family relationship between them. At this time, Tamar was the ex-daughter-in-law to Judah, because this family relationship had been morally and legally broken by the death of Er and Onan. This is also true concerning the death of a spouse which releases the remaining spouse to be free from the marriage bond and to marry another. Thus this union was not an incestual union.
The Bible does not specifically give the family genealogy of Tamar, but based on Judah’s demand that she be burnt with fire (Lev. 21:9) indicates that she was of the tribe of Levi, Judah’s older brother, the third son of Jacob. Even though this sexual union was unlawful being that it was outside the bond of marriage, both Judah and Tamar were of the same genealogical stock. Judah was told that Tamar “hath played the harlot: and also, behold she is with child by whoredom” (Gen. 38:24). Of this union was born twin boys, Pharez and Zarah. Pharez became one of the progenitors of the royal House of David, in which Jesus Himself was born of the Virgin Mary (Luke 3:32-33).
In I Chronicles 4:1-20 are listed the additional descendants of Judah, obviously by another wife, excluding Shelah and his family. Thus we see the extended family of Judah that eventually formed the bulk of the tribe of Judah. These pure-blood Judahites would later form the nation of Judah which included the royal House of David. During the ministry of the prophet Jeremiah in the 6th century BC, these Judahites were referred to as the “good figs.” To them the Lord looked with favor as the prophet declared; “Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart” (Jer. 24:4-7). The Lord repeated His declaration of God to them through the prophet by saying; “For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive” (Jer. 29:10-14).
It was to this family branch of the line of Judah that was promised to someday know the Lord. In New Testament terminology, those would be the Judahites that would accept the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. In other words, they would accept the message of the Gospel and Christianity. The unfailing promise would surely come to pass which the Lord graciously gave when He said, “And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart” (Jer. 24:7). The Lord further stated that He would make a new covenant with the House of Judah in addition to the House of Israel. The language defining the terms of this covenant clearly indicates that it would be the Christian Covenant under Jesus Christ. Jeremiah records; “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:31-34).
The author of the book of Hebrews in writing to the New Testament saints, after the ratification of the New Covenant by Jesus Christ on the cross, confirms that the promise of Jeremiah was now being fulfilled in the Gospel dispensation. The writer declared; “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:6-13).
Thus we see that the pure Judahites are the ones that are truly God’s chosen people. They have existed through both Old and New Testament times even unto this day. They were prophesied to compatibly dwell with the House of Israel, thus forming all thirteen tribes with whom the Lord would deal with in these latter days. The prophet declared; “The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim” (Isa. 11:13).
One extremely important aspect of this historical drama which must not be overlooked is what took place in the Assyrian captivities. In the Biblical account as recorded in II Kings 18:13 is information that is very revealing as to what happened to a large part of the people of the tribe of Judah. “Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them.”
About eight years after the kings of Assyria had taken the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom into captivity, Sennacherib set his aim on the people of Judah. In order to get an accurate picture of what transpired, we must take into account that there were three Israelite tribes that resided within the Southern Kingdom known as Judah. They were Judah, Benjamin and part of the priestly tribe of Levi. Therefore, when Sennacherib took captive the people of the fenced cities of Judah, it included people of all three tribes. So in the captivity and deportation of the Northern Kingdom of Israel into Assyria and points north and west, all thirteen tribes were represented. These Israelites never returned back to the land which later became known as Palestine.
A large number of the good fig company of Judahites would have been a part of the Israelites that centuries later would accept the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. They later would be located in the lands that would comprise the nations known as Christendom. God did not allow the Assyrian king to capture the city of Jerusalem as recorded in Isaiah chapters 36 and 37. The city of Jerusalem was reserved for Nebuchadnezzar to capture and deport the people to Babylon.
II. MIXED BLOOD JUDAHITE/CANAANITE
The Biblical account is very clear that the first three sons of Judah were born of a Canaanite mother. The first two sons of this woman were slain by the Lord due to their wickedness, leaving no offspring. The youngest son, Shelah, survived and became the progenitor of a family seedline. The Biblical account reads as thus: “And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her. And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er. And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan. And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him. And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also” (Genesis 38:1-10).
Before tracing the seedline of Shelah, who was a half breed of Judahite and Canaanite blood, it is imperative to recognize the curse that was placed upon Canaan, the father of this family tree. Canaan was the offspring of an incestual union between Ham and his mother. The Biblical text is clear in describing exactly what happened and the consequences of this act. “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren” (Gen. 9:22-25). The term “nakedness of his father” is clearly explained in Leviticus 18:8 and 20:11 as a son who has sexual relations with his father’s wife. The text reads; “The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness”(18:8) and “And the man that lieth with his father's wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (20:11). For this act of iniquity, Noah did not curse Ham, but cursed Canaan the offspring of this incestual union. Throughout Old Testament history, the Canaanites were perpetual enemies of God’s people Israel. The Lord forbid His people to intermarry with them and even told Israel to eradicate them when they possessed the land of Canaan.
In tracing the family of Shelah, the Biblical account is very clear in stating that Shelah was one of the grandsons of Jacob that went with him down to Egypt (Gen. 46:1-7, 12). Jacob moved his entire family to Egypt at the request of his son Joseph in approximately 1677 B.C. When the Israelites left Egypt in 1453 B.C., there was a mixed multitude that left with them. Moses wrote that “a mixed multitude went up also with them” (Ex. 12:38). Could this mixed multitude refer to both non-Israelites and half breed Israelites such as Shelah’s family?
Forty years after the Exodus, the descendants of Shelah were present at the numbering of Israel before conquering the land of Canaan. Numbers 26:20 says; “And the sons of Judah after their families were; of Shelah, the family of the Shelanites: of Pharez, the family of the Pharzites: of Zerah, the family of the Zarhites.”
Hundreds of years after the Exodus, the family of Shelah was living in the nation of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, and was described in I Chronicles 4:21-23. “The sons of Shelah the son of Judah were, Er the father of Lecah, and Laadah the father of Mareshah, and the families of the house of them that wrought fine linen, of the house of Ashbea, and Jokim, and the men of Chozeba, and Joash, and Saraph, who had the dominion in Moab, and Jashubilehem. And these are ancient things. These were the potters, and those that dwelt among plants and hedges: there they dwelt with the king for his work.”
Could these half breed Judahites that had the blood of the cursed son of incest be the bad figs during the time of the prophet Jeremiah? The prophet declared an immutable curse upon the naughty figs by saying “And as the evil figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so evil; surely thus saith the LORD, So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt: And I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them. And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, among them, till they be consumed from off the land that I gave unto them and to their fathers” (Jer. 24:8-10). The prophet repeated the curse by saying, “Because ye have said, The LORD hath raised us up prophets in Babylon; Know that thus saith the LORD of the king that sitteth upon the throne of David, and of all the people that dwelleth in this city, and of your brethren that are not gone forth with you into captivity; Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Behold, I will send upon them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like vile figs, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil. And I will persecute them with the sword, with the famine, and with the pestilence, and will deliver them to be removed to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, and an astonishment, and an hissing, and a reproach, among all the nations whither I have driven them: Because they have not hearkened to my words, saith the LORD, which I sent unto them by my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; but ye would not hear, saith the LORD” (Jer. 29:15-19).
In 585 B.C. after the return of the people of Judah from the seventy year captivity in Babylon, both Ezra and Nehemiah reprimanded many of them because they had married foreign wives. The Bible records; “And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel. Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives” (Ezra 10:10-11). The Biblical account gives a roster of many of the priests who had married strange (non-Judahite) wives (Ezra 10:12-43). Then Ezra’s record concludes by saying, “All these had taken strange wives: and some of them had wives by whom they had children” (10:44). Nehemiah records that many of the offenders repented for their sin of marrying women of the land of Babylon (Neh. 10:28-30). Nehemiah further records how he contended with many “Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab” (Neh. 13:23-31).
Genesis 10:6-10 states that the Cushites, the descendants of Ham settled Babylon in the land of Shinar. These wives of Ashdod were Philistines while those of Ammon and Moab were from the incestuous union of Lot and his two daughters (Gen.19:30-38). Nehemiah mentions that King Solomon was also guilty of this same sin of marrying strange women (13:26).
In the book of Esther is a very revealing phrase. During the reign of King Ahasuerus of the Medo-Persian Empire, after the overthrow of Babylon in about 485 B.C,, many Jews remained in the land. After the scheming intrigue of Haman was overturned and Mordecai was saved, the power of the Jews increased in the halls of government. It must be kept in mind that these Jews were no doubt the evil figs spoken of by Jeremiah. They did not return to Jerusalem but remained in Persia and became very influential in religion, finance and government throughout the empire. After being saved from destruction these Jews did not give the glory to God, but took out their vendetta on their enemies through fear and slaughter. The writer records, “Thus the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction, and did what they would unto those that hated them. And in Shushan the palace the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men” ( Esther 9:5-6). The record states; “and many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them” (Esther 8:17). Thus is one more incident when do doubt thousands of heathen people adopted the religion of Judaism, intermarried with the Jews, creating an even greater mixture of blood.
The very idea of these unlawful mixtures clearly indicate that many of the Jews of Old Testament times were not pure blood Judahites. No doubt their descendants increased and were still in existence during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Logically, this practice continued and even increased until the time of John the Baptist when he refused to baptize them.
III. RELIGIOUS PROSELYTES TO JUDAISM
The period of time between the return of the Judahite (Jews) exiles from Babylon and the birth of Jesus is known as the intertestamental period. This would be generally from the book of Malachi to the book of Matthew covering a period of about 400 years. During this time the nation of Judah went through a lot of turmoil in its leadership and relations with surrounding nations. It fought many wars, conquering and being conquered. Throughout this time, the power of the priests grew stronger until eventually the High Priest was virtually the king of the land. The Jewish historian Lewis Browne wrote: “But, despite the efforts of the priests, foreign influences did seep into the life of the people. Gradually their language was corrupted from pure Hebrew to a jargon called Aramaic, so that after a few generations they could not understand even their own Scriptures. In their synagogues each Sabbath - for those “meeting - houses” they had created in the Exile had become common now throughout Judea - they had to read their Holy Writings through an Aramaic translation called the Targum. And many of their religious ideas changed too. . . In the fateful year 333 B.C. Alexander the Great became master of the Persian Empire, and a year later, on his march toward Egypt, he took possession of Palestine. (The little land was still the one bridge used by the Empire builders. . .) But this Alexander, a mere boy in years, was quite unlike the ordinary world conquerors. His aim seems to have been not so much the gaining of power as the spreading of culture.” 3
Thus the Jewish people became Hellenistic or Greek in their cultural way of life. Due to the break-up of Alexander the Great’s empire because of his early death, Judea became a part of the kingdom of Syria in 198 B.C. The Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes implemented harsh rule over the Jews in their cultural and religious practices. An old priest named, Mattathias rebelled and slew a Syrian officer with his sword. He then fled into the wilderness with his five sons. His son Judas, formed an army and fought effectively against the Syrians and became known Judas Maccabeus or “Judas the Hammerer.” On December 25, 165 B.C. the Maccabean army defeated the Syrians (Seleucid Army) and cleansed the Jerusalem temple. The celebration of this victory is known as the Feast of Lights or Chanukah.
VI. FORCED CONVERSION TO JUDAISM
Historian Lewis Browne outlines further the events that followed the Maccabean victory. He writes, “But the triumph of the Jews had been too complete. The war which had been waged at first only for religious freedom, ended in winning also political independence. And that added gain proved their undoing. Simon, the last of the five sons of Mattathias, was succeeded on the throne by his son, the high priest, John Hyrcanus; and with him the tragedy began. Drunk with his new- found power he undertook cruel and costly wars against his neighbors. In pursuance of his dream of carving out a great empire for himself, he hacked down the Samaritans not content merely with making those lands subject to his rule, he even compelled their inhabitants to accept his religion. Forcibly he converted them to Judaism. The grandson of old Mattathias who gave his life for the right to worship his own god in his own way, was now spending all his days trying to wrest that very right from others.”4
John Hyrcanus (b.175 - d.104 BC) took his vengeance out on the Syrians and conquered many of their cities. The Jewish Encyclopedia states that; “After victoriously [120 B.C.] ending the war in Samaria, he proceeded to subdue the Edomites, always a menace to the southern parts of his domains. With funds which he is said to have obtained from David’s sepulcher he hired foreign troops, dismantled Adora and Marissa, the strong places of Edom, and forced the Edomites to accept the Jewish religion and submit to circumcision. The is the first instance of forcible conversion in Jewish history. In this Hyrcanus allowed his zeal for the Jewish cause to lead him to take a step which later wrought harm; for to the Edomites belonged the family of the Herodians, who were to bring about the ruin of the Hasmoneans.”5
Concerning Herod, Lewis Browne writes: “For a while an Edomite half-Jew named Herod managed to get control of the land. By conniving with Rome he had himself made king of the Jews, and then in unspeakable cruelty he battered his people into submission. He murdered his own wife, three of his sons, and many others of his family, in striving to make his position firm. And then he built a magnificent new Temple in belated effort to win the favor of the Jews.”6
The Jewish scholar Solomon Grayzel, gave the following comment concerning Herod. “Of course, Herod considered himself a Jew. But like so many Jews, he was overly critical of his fellow Jews and especially sorry that they insisted on being different from the other peoples of the world. “7
From the above historical sources is evidence that from these events there was a strong Edomite influence in the religion of Judaism. These wicked Edomites (Gr. Idumeans) were descendants of Esau whom the Lord said He hated (Mal. 1:1-3). After a military battle at Rephidim between Israel and Amalek, the grandson of Esau, God declared His perpetual hostility against him. Moses records; “And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi: For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Ex. 17:14-16).
Biblical history records that the Edomites had intermarried with the Canaanites (Gen. 26:34-35) and the Ishmaelites (Gen. 28:6-9). So it would be 120 years for these Jewish Edomites to scheme their way into positions of power in the political and religious parties known as the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians. Is it any wonder why John the Baptist rebuked and called them a “generation of vipers”? (Matt. 3:7). In our Lord’s confrontation with the leaders of Judaism in His day, He admitted that Abraham was in their genealogical lineage. He then readily admits that they also had another father which they were following in their rebellion and unbelief. Was our Lord referring to Esau? Jesus then brings further enlightenment on their family lineage
when he expressed His doubt by saying; “If ye were Abraham’s children.” Jesus then uttered his strongest condemnation on these leaders when He said; “Ye are of your father the Devil, and the lust of your father will ye do” (John 8:37-44).
Could this family lineage and corrupt spiritual condition of the Jews of Jesus’ day, account for their hostility against Jesus Christ and His followers? This hatred against the Gospel of Christ and the ministry of the Apostles is clearly seen in the action of many of the Jews and their leaders in the Book of Acts. Some of the accounts include Acts. 4:1-3; 5:7-18, 25-40.
This knowledge of the ancestral lineage of many mixed blood Jews helps to shed much light on Jesus’ description of them given to John the Revelator. Jesus said; “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” (Rev. 2: 9) and “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee” (Rev. 3:9).
V. JEWISH BY GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION AND RELIGION
One possible way for non-Jews to be considered Jews would be simply by living in the geographical land mass known as Judea. Judea was one of the Roman provinces in the land of Palestine during the Roman occupation in the first century BC and the first century AD. The provinces were Galilee to the north, Samaria in central Palestine and Judah to the south. Many Bible students fail to take into account the influx of non -Judahites that had entered the region of Judea, such as the Syrians and Edomites as previously mentioned. Too often the impression is given by Bible teachers that everyone living in Judea were pure and direct descendants of Judah, the son of Jacob. They continue in their error by teaching that the people of today known as Jews are direct and pure blood descendants who can trace their lineage back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob without interruption. This simply is not true.
During the earthly life of Jesus Christ given in the Scriptural record, there are references to Israelites of other tribes living in Judea. The first two examples are the parents of John the Baptist. Luke’s Gospel records, “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth” (Luke 1:5). Both Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth were not Judahites or Jews by genealogy, but Levites. Their ancestral father was Levi, the brother of Judah. Another example is that of Anna the prophetess who was of the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36). These three people were not Jewish by blood, but in a generic sense considered to be Jews because they were living in the land of Judea. They also adhered to and performed the ceremonies of Old Testament Hebraism (Hebrewism) which had became perverted Judaism during the Babylonian exile.
Eleven of our Lord’s Apostles are believed by many to have been Benjamites by blood and not Jews. Judas Iscariot was possibly the only Jewish Apostle among the original twelve. His last name determines his city of origin. The Wycliffe Encyclopedia denotes the following. “Judas Iscariot. Gr. Iskariotes, meaning ‘inhabitant of Kerioth’, derived from the Hebrew ish, ‘man’ plus geriyot, hence ‘man of Kerioth’.”8 The city of Kerioth was located west of the southern shore of the Dead Sea in the region where the Edomites lived. Could Judas have been one of the Edomite Jews that lived in Judea during the earthly life of our Lord? This would explain his betrayal of Jesus.
Paul the Apostle made it very clear to his readers as to his genealogical descent from Abraham and Israel through Benjamin, his tribal father. Paul said that he was “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee” (Phil. 3:5). He was not a Jew by blood, but a Benjamite. In Paul’s defense before the chief captain and the mob, he referred to himself as a Jew (Acts 21:39; 22:3). To the Philippian saints he called himself a Pharisee. Paul was trained in the religion of Judaism by the highly respected Rabbi scholar Gamaliel, yet he was a Benjamite by blood. Therefore, Paul was a Jew only by religion because of his training and adamant adherence to all its laws and demands. In his younger days, as Saul, he was even in the employ of the High Priest in the persecuting of Christians (Acts 9:1-2).
From the above references it is plainly seen in the Scriptural text that everyone living in the land of Judea were not Jews by blood. Many are referred to as ‘Jews’ because of their geographical location and/or religious training and cultural influence making them ‘Jews’ only by nationalistic or religious identification.
VI. JEWISH BY NATIONAL CONVERSION
One of the major and most influential areas of Jewish history is the story of the Chazars and their conversion to Judaism. This account is best told through the research and literacy works of Jewish historians themselves. The Jewish Encyclopedia entry is as follows:
“Chazars: A people of Turkish origin whose life and history are interwoven with the very beginnings of the history of the Jews in Russia. The kingdom of the Chazars was firmly established in most of South Russia long before the foundation of the Russian monarchy by the Varangians (855). Jews have lived on the shores of the Black and Caspian Seas since the first centuries of the common era. . .It was probably about that time that the chaghan of the Chazars and his grandees, together with a large number of his heathen people embraced the Jewish religion. According to A. Harkavy (“Meassef Niddahim,” i.), the conversion took place in 620, according to others, in 740. . .He invited Jewish scholars to settle in his dominions, and founded synagogues and schools. The people were instructed in the Bible, Mishnah, and Talmud, and in the ‘divine service of the Hazzanim.’ . . . According to the Mas’udi, the king and the Chazars proper were Jews.”9
Lewis Browne gives his account of this Chazar national conversion to Judaism in the following quotes. “We are told of a large tribe of tartars called the Khazars, who in the eighth century were converted to Judaism and established a Jewish kingdom in southern Russia. Although that kingdom was destroyed by the Russians in the tenth century, no doubt many of the descendants of the Khazars were still living in the region. And no doubt they readily greeted their brethren as they came flocking in from Germany. The kings of Poland did not at all oppose the vast immigration of Jews. Their land was still sparsely settled, and almost barbaric. There was little commerce in it, for there were exceedingly few towns or villages. So the Jews, who were now known to be primarily a commercial people, were welcomed by the shrewd kings. . . No one can tell for certain how this difference arose. Perhaps it was due to the greater admixture of rich tartar blood in the veins of the Jews in the south. Perhaps in that region more intermarriages had taken place with the descendants of the Khazars. Whatever the cause may have been, however, the contrast was unmistakable. The Polish Jews could not and did not try to forget all their woes in dull Talmudic disputations. They preferred a game that gave their imaginations rather than their wits a chance to gambol and frolic. So while the northerners, the ‘Litvaks,’ patiently spun their holy rules, the southerners played in incantations and magic spells. While the Lithuanians set their minds to the task of boring through the Talmud, the Polish and Galician Jews let their fancies run riot in the Cabala.”10
Solomon Grayzel gives this synopsis of the Khazar conversion to Judaism. “The Khazars – An equally fascinating story, but carrying a greater measure of truth and dealing with the spread of Judaism during those days, occurred in another distant part of the world. Around the year 600, a belligerent tribe of half-Mongolian people, similar to the modern Turks, had conquered the territory of what is now southern Russia. Before long the kingdom of the Khazars, as this tribe was known, stretched from the Caspian to the Black Sea. Its capital city, Ityl, was at the mouth of the Volga River. The Khazars mingled with the native Slavic population. Jewish, Christian and Mohammedan merchants visited them, and these contacts had a cultural result. Sometime during the eighth century the Khazar king and nobility became civilized enough to want to abandon their pagan worship and adopt a monotheistic religion about which the visitors from neighboring lands to the south used to tell them. But which monotheistic religion was it to be? The merchants from the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) empire urged Christianity upon them. The merchants from Persia urged them to adopt Mohammedanism. Both of these were the religions of mighty, conquering kingdoms. Each argued that God was on its side. Apparently each of these religions won a large number of adherents among the Khazars. But the royal family and the largest number of the nobility were impressed with Judaism. That was the religion they adopted, though they did not force it upon others. For several centuries, the Jewish kingdom of the Khazars continued to rule over southern Russia, and even the prince of Kiev paid them tribute.” 11 Grayzel goes on to comment further about the influence of the Khazars on pages 325 and 333.
In his informative and scholarly book entitled, “The Jews of Khazaria” Jewish historian Kevin Alan Brook has the following comments on this national conversion to the religion of Judaism. “The Jews of Khazaria recounts the eventual history of the kingdom of Khazaria, which was located in eastern Europe and flourished as an independent state from about 650 to 1016. In the ninth century, the Khazarian royalty and nobility as well as a significant portion of the Khazarian population embraced the Jewish religion.
“As a major world power, Khazaria employed diplomatic and trade relations with many peoples and nations and changed the course of medieval history in many ways. After their conversion, the Khazars were ruled by a succession of Jewish kings and began to adopt the hallmarks of Jewish civilization, including the Torah and Talmud, the Hebrew script and the observance of Jewish holidays. A portion of the empire’s population adopted Christianity and Islam.
“This volume traces the development of the Khazars from their early beginnings as a tribe to the decline and fall of their kingdom. It also examines the many migrations of the Khazar people into Hungry, Ukraine, and other areas of Europe and their subsequent assimilation, providing the most comprehensive treatment of this complex issue to date. The final chapter enumerates the Jewish communities of eastern Europe which sprung up after the fall of Khazaria and proposes that the Jews from the former Russian empire are descended from a mixture of Khazar Jews, German Jews, Greek Jews, and Slavs. . . Ashkenazic Jews who wish to explore their distant ancestry in eastern Europe will greatly benefit from reading this book.
“The Khazars were predominately Turkic. The Greek historian Theophanes (b. About 725, d. about 818) wrote that the Khazars were ‘Turks from the East.’ Turkic genealogical myths identified Khazar as the ‘brother’ of other Turkic tribes, such as the Bulgar, Sabir, Avar, and Oghuz. . . There is also additional evidence that seems to demonstrate that the Khazars adopted Hebrew. . . Bulan, the first Jewish ruler of the Khazars, decided upon Judaism after listening to the arguments of the Arab mullah, Christian priest, and Jewish rabbi who attended the religious debate. . . The date of king Bulan’s conversion to Judaism traditionally has been considered to be the year 740, with the ruling aristocratic classes and many of the common people converting soon afterward. . .In his book The Non-Jewish Origins of the Sephardic Jews, Paul Wexler put forth a theory that the Sephardic Jews of Spain and Portugal were descended primarily from Arabs, Berbers, and Romance-language-speaking Europeans who adopted Judaism and mixed with a small number of Palestinian Jews.
“These Jews arrived in Poland in large numbers starting in the mid thirteenth century and in Belarus by the late fourteenth century, bringing with them the Yiddish language and culture. Many scholars believe that Yiddish speaking Jews from central Europe continued to establish new lives in the East as late as the early seventeenth century. After 1648, however, the general direction of migration seems to have shifted westward, with many Polish Jews moving to central and western Europe. The culmination of this westward trend was in the 1880's to 1920's, when millions of eastern European Jews immigrated to the United States and Canada.
“Many Jews maybe descended from Slavs (such as Belarusians, Poles, and Russians), as well as from Germans, Austrians, Gypsies, and many other peoples. At the same time, it is probable that there is a small underlying Israelite-Judean component among Ashkenazi Jews.
“After moving to Kieven Rus, they adopted the Slavic language and became known as “Rus’ian” or “Canaanite” Jews. The Jews from central Europe who moved eastward into Poland as early as 1096- 1098 and then spread into Belarus and Ukraine met these Canaanite Jews and assimilated with them.” 12
On the dust cover of the book, “The Thirteenth Tribe” by Jewish author, Arthur Koestler is the following statement. “This book traces the history of the ancient Khazar Empire, a major but almost forgotten power in Eastern Europe, which in the dark ages became converted to Judaism. Khazaria was finally wiped out by the forces of Genghis Khan, but evidence indicates that the Khazars themselves migrated to Poland and formed the cradle of Western Jewry.”13
In “The Bookshelf” column of The Wall Street Journal, Edmund Fuller writes a review of Mr. Koestler’s book. “Are today’s Western Jews really ethnic, Semitic, Biblical Jews, or are most of them descendants of converted Khazars? That is the question weighed by Arthur Koestler in ‘The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and its Heritage.’ Though familiar to few other than scholars, it is not a new question. But arises from a large body of scholarly inquiry, Jewish and non-Jewish, for over 100 years, having its roots in many ancient chronicles and histories. It was asserted in 1944 by A.N. Poliak, Prof. of Medieval Jewish History at Tel Aviv University. . . Who were the Khazars? They were a non-Semitic, Turkic people dwelling in a strategic area north of the Caucasus mountains. . . In an important chapter, “Race and Myth,” Mr. Koestler quotes scholar Raphael Patai; ‘The findings of physical anthropology show that, contrary to popular view, there is no Jewish race.’ Such studies, Mr. Koestler contends, seem to support the multiple ethnic origins of modern Jewry. His purpose, throughout, is to subject racist mythology to the scrutiny of science and history.
“On the implications of all this for the State of Israel, his view, again controversial, is that the case for the existence and preservation of Israel rest not on religious, Biblical, or ethnic grounds but on the United Nations’ decision of 1947 by which it was established.” 14
In the book, “The Jews, Their History, Culture and Religion,” Melville J. Herskovits wrote the chapter entitled, ‘Who are the Jews?’ He quotes various authors in the following statements. ‘A Jew belongs not to a race, but to a Jewish community.’ ‘For our purpose we shall define the word Jew to include all individuals of the so-called “white” races of mankind who, by virtue of family tradition, do practice or whose ancestors did practice the religion of Judaism.’ This is in line with Parr’s conclusion ( 1934), based on the study of blood types, that: ‘there is serological evidence that the Jews are a religion rather than a race.’
“Wider in its limits is the racio-religious definition implicit in the categories set up by Joseph Jacobs, in an early study of the anthropometry of the Jews aimed at describing what he held to be a Jewish race, and presented in a paper read before the Royal Anthropological Institute of London (1886). In a table giving the numbers “of various, classes of persons now living, who may claim to be Jews by religion or by birth or both,” he includes:
A. Jews both by religion and by birth Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Samaritans (?)
B. Jews by religion, but not by birthFalashas of Abyssinia, Karaites of the Crimea, Kaggatouns, etc., of
the Sahara, Beni-Israel of Bombay, and the Cochin Jews of Cochin
C. Jews by birth, but not by religion Chuetas or Anussim of the Balearic Islands, the Maiminen of
Salonica, and the G’did al Islam of Khorasan.’” 15
From the foregoing statements of Biblical and secular evidence, it is clear that the modern day people known as Jews are not a pure race, but an amalgamation of different ethnic groups. This being true, it would be difficult to prove any claim for a pure and direct descent from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. With the above information from these unimpeachable sources, the reader now has a more accurate knowledge as to the true identity of the Jewish people. This historical data brought forth from reliable sources such as Holy Scripture, secular scholars, the Jewish Encyclopedia and Jewish historians, informs us as to the background of the ethnic genealogy, religion, language, culture and migrations of the people known as Jews.
This information is set forth in good faith to help the people of God have a more perceptive view of Biblical and secular history. It therefore gives the modern day Christian a greater knowledge whereby to judge the current national and international events taking place in our day. Many emotional and financial appeals are being made to the Christian public for support for causes that may not truly be what they are reported to be. Therefore, proper research is imperative to inform ourselves in order to be forewarned against false information. I encourage each reader who desires to have an even greater understanding to do further research into this all important subject.
1. Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, Moody Press, Chicago 1975, Vol. 1, pp. 921-922
2. JEWS, The World Book Encyclopedia, Field Enterprises Educational Corp., Chicago, IL 1961 Volume 10, p. 98 Philip S. Berstein - Critically reviewed by Samuel Belkin and Louis Finkelstein.
3. Stranger Than Fiction, Lewis Browne, pub. Macmillan Company, New York, NY 1927, pp.120-121
4. Ibid p. 128
5. The Jewish Encyclopedia, KTAV Pub. House, Volume VI Isidore Singer, Ph.D Projector and Managing Editor p. 516
6. Browne p.131
7. A History of the Jews, by Solomon Grayzel, Pub. Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, PA 1947 p. 100
8. Wycliffe, Vol. 1 p. 966
9. Jewish Ency. Vol. 4 pp. 1,2
10. Browne pp. 237-238; 283, 285
11 Grayzel pp. 280-281
12. The Jews of Khazaria by Kevin Alan Brook, Pub. Jason Aronson, Inc, Northvale, NJ and Jerusalem 1999 pp.1,2, 81, 124, 125, 256, 282, 299, 302
13. The Thirteenth Tribe by Arthur Koestler, Random House, New York 1976
14. The Bookshelf by Edmund Fuller, The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, August 11, 1976
15. The Jews, Their History, Culture, and Religion, Edited by Louis Finkelstein, President, The Jewish Theological Seminary Of America Vol. II, Harper & Brothers Pub., New York 1949, p. 1154