When Emperor Hadrian was mopping up the remnants of Jewish inhabitants of Judea, his soldiers came across Rabbi Akiba, the 120 year old rabbinical sage who had in fact orchestrated the war against Rome and anointed bar Kokhba to be the Messiah in Judah who would deliver them from their subjugation. They taught this “master in Israel” a severe lesson. He had inspired revolt against the iron yoke of Rome, not only despising the earlier favours that Hadrian had offered to the Jews but, far worse, he had ignored the clear teaching of the prophet Daniel when he spoke by the word of the Lord. Daniel had spoken of a fourth world empire that would “break in pieces and subdue all things” (Dan 2:40). That fourth empire power would destroy the Temple and put an end to Mosaic services (Dan 8:11,12). Both the Temple and the city would be made desolate. (Dan 9:26,27). Furthermore the time of down-treading was set for a long period of 2300 day-years (Dan 8:13,14). Rabbi Akiba should have been conversant with these things. When Akiba was in his prime years, Jesus of Nazareth had stood by the Temple and pleaded that his audience should know these facts of Daniel’s prophecy (Matt 24:15).

Now the evil consequences of pride and ignorance were coming home to him. Hadrian’s soldiers made an iron comb and tore away the flesh from his aged frame. Daniel said the fourth power would have “great iron teeth” (Dan 7:7). The soldiers then wrapped him in a copy of his beloved Torah with some moist padding inside to prolong the agony and set him alight. Among the pages of the Torah were all the warnings of Deuteronomy 28. Why would they fight against their God?

The Hadrian Legacy

Hadrian’s war with the Jews was the final of three major wars. The first and most dramatic was that of Vespasian and Titus in AD68–70.The next was prosecuted by Emperor Trajan in AD114–117 as he sought to suppress a general uprising of Jews in Egypt, Cyprus, Palestine and Mesopotamia. But it was that of Hadrian in AD132–135 that cast the longest shadow, for he not only destroyed Jerusalem again and renamed it after his family, Aelia Capitolina, but he passed laws that

  • forbad a Jew to be within sight of Jerusalem
  • outlawed circumcision
  • forbad the reading of the Law
  • banned the Sabbath
  • disallowed phylacteries
  • destroyed synagogues in Judea
  • banned ownership of land by Jews.

To cap it off he renamed the land “Syria Palestina”.

It is an amazing fact that Hadrian’s legislative influence was still in vogue in the 19th century, even though the Land later had passed into Muslim control for 1200 years. When Sir Moses Montefiore sought land for the first new colony in 1852, the Sultan of Turkey had to somehow get around the law of Hadrian, dated AD 135!

The Challenge of Exile

“And Yahweh shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other… And among these nations shalt thou find no ease… but Yahweh shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind: and thy life shall hang in doubt before thee” (Deut 28:64–67). How terribly true these words became. This was not exile but dispersion! How could a nation survive without a land, without communication, without cultural focus or practice of their religion. Their dilemma was great.

In the little town of Yavne nestled in the Judean hills, a small survival academy arose to find answers to their predicament. The dangers they perceived were

  • the slave markets—many Jews just disappearing
  • the loss of their language
  • forsaking of their heritage
  • apostasising from Judaism
  • general assimilation among the Gentiles.

Another significant rabbi, Ben Zakkai, led the debates, providing a framework of behaviour and philosophy that has ensured the perpetuation of the people through 1800 years of Diaspora. Their language was to be preserved by Hebrew grammars and dictionaries. To avoid apostasy, synagogues were to be built and provide a focus of religion, culture and welfare. If there were only ten male members then a minyan, a religious community, was to be established. If there were twenty then a social community, with its own court, charities and taxes was to be organised. The rabbi urged the acceptance of a school system to provide uniform education for Jewish boys, consistent with Judaism. They were to recognise the laws and courts of their host country, save where it conflicted with rabbinical teaching. They abandoned the idea of reconquering Palestine or forming a Jewish state; they could join the army of the country where they lived but no Jewish force was to be attempted. It was not until after the Balfour Declaration that a Jewish regiment took up the sword! They even resolved upon no proselytising.

“Responsa”

All this would help but how would their brethren be aware of their decisions, being so scattered throughout the Roman world? They instigated a courier service called “Responsa” and so from little Yavne went out the light of the new Judaism, without Temple, offerings or priesthood—and without Messiah!

In time the centre had to shift, so that Tiberias, Safed and then Babylon became the centre of Jewish religion and culture. Rabbi quoted rabbi and added to their laws and bi-laws until a vast disorganised volume called the Mishna was developed. By the 4th century a very sophisticated and numerous Jewish population was flourishing in Babylon, centring around three famous yeshiva, or religious universities, that not only attracted Jewish boys from afar but also students of other nationalities. It was here that the Babylonian Talmud was produced, a massive volume which collated and organised rabbinical comment and published this standard work of Judaism. The women with the wings of a stork had literally established their house in the land of Shinar—Babylonia (Zech 5:11).

The Hallmarks of Anti-Semitism

All these contrivances secured their independence and singular manner of life and went a great way, no doubt, to securing the preservation of this unique people. It led them to form tight communities, living close by each other, distinct in manners, dress and appearance and independent of Gentile institutions and church-life. They gave feigned obedience to their own laws and customs but refused to work in with the society about them. Haman’s description to Ahasuerus was again verified in every province of the kingdoms of Europe and the Islamic east. All these features are the cues for discrimination or anti-Semitism. Two other major factors played into the drama of these 1700 years of recrimination. The first was the success and wealth of many Jewish communities. They were so often diligent, clever, perceptive. Prevented from ownership of land in many countries they turned to business and trading and banking. Between the waves of anti-Semitism many Jews became synonymous with wealth and affluence and thus were able to exercise power and influence where the jealous mob feels it most. So whatever season of freedoms and material blessings they experienced, it inevitably brought on another wave of persecutions and jealousy.

“Boast Not Against the Branches”

The other major factor in anti-Semitism has been the teaching and example of the Roman Catholic Church. It is significant that emperor Constantine, who married the empire with the Church, was the first to prescribe legal discrimination against non-conformist religion. Now that he had hitched his fortunes to Christianity he would not allow unorthodox religion. The legacy of this was that intolerance became endemic in the Roman world and wars were fought over doctrines. In this environment the Jews could only suffer repeatedly as their totally non-conformist religious views attracted enmity from priests and bishops and popes throughout Europe and through all the following centuries. In virtually every Catholic country, Jews were second-class citizens, despised forever as ‘those who killed Jesus’, which became a justification for mob hatred and persecution in the fullest sense of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 28. Even England exiled her Jews in the 13th century, then Holland in the 14th century and Spain in the 15th century. No-one wanted them. When the Crusaders grouped in Europe before setting off for the Holy Land to wrest the sacred Christian sites from the Muslims, they practised their butchery upon hundreds of Jewish communities throughout Europe. Thousands of men, women and children were slain in these massacres. But not a word of dissent from the Popes! Nor were the Protestant reformers much better. Luther thought that now that Catholicism was set back in Germany that Jews would convert to his Christianity. When they remained obstinate he fumed, “What shall be done with these miserable Jews? We shall beat them and burn their bones in our fires”. Any wonder that Europe rose to the Holocaust, the historic crescendo of anti-Semitism.

Where might advice be found on one’s attitude to unbelieving Israel? Surely Romans chapter 11: “Hath God cast away His people? God forbid”! No less than five times in this famous chapter the apostle Paul counsels against despising the Jew­

  • “Boast not against the branches”(11:18)
  • “Be not highminded, but fear” (11:20)
  • “…take heed lest he spare not thee” (11:21)
  • “…lest ye should be wise in your own conceits” (11:25)
  • “…if the root be holy so are the branches” (11:16).

It is surely a wonder in history that Christianity, with access to the Bible, has so persistently and relentlessly despised the natural seed of Abraham through all these centuries.

A Ray of Dawn

The French Revolution was against the aristocracy, yet strangely threw up one of the greatest dictators of all time. Napoleon Bonaparte destroyed the privileged place of the Roman Church and, among so many other freedoms, gave citizenship to Jews and encouraged them to form a new Sanhedrin, which he personally recognised. Though the long dark night of anti-Semitism was far from over, yet it was the beginning of a new and exciting phase in the history of the Jews. He even attempted to remove the Turk from Palestine but God had designated Britain for this rôle, which of course she fulfilled in 1917. Despite many evils, Jewish numbers and influence grew considerably in the 19th century. Furthermore, in key governmental circles a knowledge of the prophecies of restoration was filtering through. Eminent statesmen were interested in Eretz Israel. Some were beginning to sense what the Word of God had said concerning the restoration of His people.

And in 1848, in a small flat in London a devoted Bible-loving student wrote a book called The Hope of Israel.