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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

History of Palestine: 614-1096 C.E.

From the Accession of the Mahomedans to that of the Europeans.

In the year 4374* (614) there lived in Medina, in Arabia, Mahomed ibn Abdallah, descended from Keder, son of Ishmael (Gen. 25:13), who had taken possession of Arabia and the neighbouring countries. Mahomed had two secret counsellors, who assisted him in the construction of his new system of doctrines and belief; these were Allman Mam Ali, of Jewish descent, and Turchman, a Christian; hence it resulted that the Koran contains many rules bearing analogy to Jewish ideas, for they were derived from Mam Ali.

* It is not easy to give the precise year of the Chadjra (the flight of Mahomed), since all authorities are not agreed in this respect. In general, the year of the text is assumed. In a Hebrew work, out of which I have drawn largely, the year 4384 (621) is given. The Mahomedans reckon this year 5605 (1845) as the 1261st of the Chadjra. If we now calculate their years in general at 355 days, as they have no leap year, we shall have only about 1226 solar years, which would give us the year 4379 (619 of the Christian Era) as the year of the Chadjra.

Mahomed had an astrologer at his court called Bucheran, who was a very great enemy of the Jews, and urged the prophet constantly to persecute and exterminate them entirely, so that Mahomed at length listened to the proposition, since he had without this already a hatred towards them, because they had not aided him in his campaigns according to his expectation; wherefore the whole Jewish population under his rule, ran great danger of being entirely cut off. Rabbi Shallum, son of the then Resh Gelutha, in Babel, perceiving this dreadful predicament, went to Mahomed, and offering him his submission, friendship, and services, endeavoured to enter with him into a friendly compact. Mahomed accepted his proposition with pleasure, conceived a great affection for him, and took his daughter, a handsome young girl, for wife; he made him also a general in his army, and gave him the name of Abu Bachr al Chaliva al Zadik, literally: The father of the maiden, the descendant of the righteous; this means, that of all his wives, who were either widows or divorced women, this one was the only one who had never been married before, and then she was the granddaughter of the celebrated chief of the captivity; therefore, the descendant of the righteous. This occurrence induced Mahomed to give up his terrible intention to destroy the Jews in his country, and thus did Rabbi Shallum save his people.

Abu Bachr and Aliman now resolved among themselves to remove the dangerous enemy of the Jews, Bucheran. One evening Mahomed, Bucheran, Aliman, and Abu Bachr, were drinking together; the latter two soon saw that Mahomed and the astrologer were strongly intoxicated, and lay stretched out in a deep and profound sleep. Abu Bachr thereupon drew the sword of Mahomed from its scabbard, cut off therewith Bucharan's head, and put the bloody sword back into its receptacle, and both then lay themselves down quietly near Mahomed to sleep. When Mahomed awoke and saw his friend lying decapitated near him, he cried out in a fury: "This terrible deed has been done by one of us three in our drunkenness!" Abu Bachr thereupon said quite unconcernedly: "Let each one draw his sword, and he whose weapon is stained with blood, must needs be the murderer!" They all drew their swords, and that of Mahomed was completely dyed with fresh blood, which proved thus clearly to his satisfaction that he had murdered his friend. He was greatly grieved at this discovery; cursed and condemned the wine which was the cause of this murder, and swore that he never would drink any more, and that also no one should do so who wishes to enter heaven. This is the cause why wine is prohibited to the Mahomedans.

At a later period, Mahomed learned the whole transaction, and that his father-in-law was the perpetrator of the bloody deed; wherefore, he lost his favour, and he would not permit him to come before him. Abu Bachr went thereupon and conquered sixty places, which had not yet submitted to Mahomed, and presented them to him, through which means he became again reconciled to him, was received in favour, and remained thereafter at court.

Mahomed urged his conquests to the north and west; made war against Heraclius and his son Constantine, captured the country around Antiochia, Armenia, a part of Asia Minor (Anatolia), and Palestine. Jerusalem, however, continued in possession of the Greeks. Mahomed reigned 11 years, and died in 4385 (625); he was succeeded by his father-in-law, Abu Bachr, but he survived him but two years, when he also died.

In 4387 (627), another father-in-law, Omar ibn Kataf, ascended the throne. In the tenth year of his reign (4397) he appeared before Jerusalem with a large army. He besieged it, and after producing great distress thereby in the city, it surrendered to his arms. He then made a treaty with the Greek inhabitants of the city, that they should pay him a ransom for their lives, and send an annual tribute. He commanded to rebuild the temple, and appropriated several pieces of ground, the proceeds of which were destined to defray the expenses and keep it in repair, which is continued to be done to this day. He built, accordingly, the great Mosque al Sachara [Dome of the Rock], of which I have spoken above. He also conquered the whole country around Damascus and Ispahan, which is a part of Persia.

Egypt was taken by his general Omar ibn Aleaz, as also the city of Alexandria, where he burnt the celebrated library, through which learned posterity suffered an irreparable loss. This conquest of Egypt put an end to the government of the Mameluks, and it came under the rule of the Califs, and so it remained till the country was conquered by the Tartars in 4502 (742). In 4400 (640), Omar built the present al Mazr and called it Al Kairo, which means, "care, pains, sorrow;" since this building cost him much trouble, care, and labour. In the town of Pastat, the ancient Zoar (for which see the Appendix), he prohibited and prevented a terrible ancient custom, which was prevalent among the Greeks of that place. They used, on the day when the Nile begins to rise, to take a handsome young woman, to dress her in the most costly and brilliant attire, to lead her to the river under accompaniment of music and dancing, and then to throw her into the water; since, according to their opinion, the Nile would, in reward for this beautiful sacrifice, rise higher and higher, and scatter its rich blessings over the land. Omar reigned 15 years.

In the year 4402 (642), Osman (or Othman) ibn Afan assumed the government. He was a son-in-law of Mahomed. In the year 4406 (646), he took the island of Rhodes, and in 4413 (603) the island of Cyprus, from the Greeks.

In 4413 (653), the Calif Ali ibn Abu Talbih, also a son-in-law of Mahomed, who had slain his predecessor Osman, succeeded to the throne. The Persians, and many other Mahomedans, regard this Ali also as a prophet, equal to Mahomed. Even at the present day there are two sects of Mahomedans; one is composed of those who only believe in and acknowledge Mahomed as a prophet [Sunni], and the other of those who ascribe the same honour to Ali [Shia]. These two sects always are inimical towards, and persecute each other. In Syria and on the Lebanon there are likewise several Mahomedans who belong to the sect of Ali.--Under him the Mahomedans conquered the whole of Anatolia, and penetrated as far as Africa and Spain. He was succeeded, in 4419 (659), by his son, Calif Chazan ibn Ali.

Calif Maevia ibn Sefian began his reign in 4434 (674). Under him there were constant wars and contests among the great men of the state, concerning the califate, and it was always doubtful whether he should be able to maintain himself on the throne or not.

In 4435, Calif Abd al Maleki assumed the government. He made a treaty with the Greek Emperor of Constantinople, Justinian II. He built the city of Ramla, and several other towns in that neighbourhood. The district of Abu Gosh (see above, Kirjath-Jearim), is to this day called Belad Beni Amaleki, perhaps in allusion to this Calif. In his time, in 4459 (699), there ruled in Iraq and Babel yet another Calif, Chadjadj ibn Jusif. Abd al Maleki was succeeded in 4467 (707) by his son, Calif Walid I., ibn Abd al Maleki.

In 4502 (742), the country was invaded by innumerable hordes of Tartars, from the vicinity of the Caspian Sea. They were called Turkemans ; hence the name of Turks. These conquered the whole of Syria, Cappadocia, and Palestine, and caused everywhere terrible devastations. The Arab Califs made war against them, and drove them out of the country; they, however, came back a third time, as I shall relate hereafter, till at length the Arabs and Turks became united, by the latter assuming the Koran and the Mahomedan religion, and formed, as at this day, but one nation, only that the former are called Arabs or Ishmaelites, and constitute the greater portion of the inhabitants of Palestine; whilst of the others, called Turks, but few are in our country, whereas in Turkey, in Europe, the population is mostly composed of them.

In 4523 (763), there reigned the Calif Al Mansur, who built Bagdad, the modern Babylon.

In 4546 (786), the Calif Harun al Rashid (i.e. the just) became ruler, and reigned till 4569 (809). He completed the building of the city of Baghdad, commenced by Al Mansur. In 4557 (797) there arose a terrible war between the Saracens and the Arabic tribes in Palestine, through which means Gaza, Ashkelon, Sarifea צריפין and Beth-Gubrin were entirely destroyed.

In 4572 (812), the Mahomedans attacked and slew the ecclesiastical chiefs of the Christians in Jerusalem.

In the year 4573 (813), ruled Calif Almamans ibn Harun, until the year 4603 (843).

In 4628 (868), there reigned Sultan Ibn Achmad ibn Tulun over Egypt. In that year the Tartaric hordes made another irruption, and conquered Palestine and Egypt. Sultan Ibn Achmad had constant wars with them: he reigned till 4644 (884).

In 4729 (969), there reigned the Calif Ma'ez, of the Fatimite family. This name was borne by the Califs of Kairuan, a country to the west of Egypt, in the neighbourhood where Carthage formerly stood (see Appendix). He conquered Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, and had his seat in Cairo (Al Mazr).

Calif Al Chakim, the third of the Fatimite family, became sovereign in the year 4756 (996). He was a great enemy to the Christians, and persecuted them everywhere.

In the year 4776 (1016), he advanced with a large army against Jerusalem, and drove away the Tartars, who yet occupied the same. He also destroyed totally the church which Constantine had built over the so­called place of Jesus’s sepulchre. His reign extended till 4781 (1021).

The pilgrims who came from the west (Europe) to Palestine, and beheld these persecutions, painted them in strong and glaring colours on their return to their native countries, and moreover calumniated the Jews, as though these had contributed much to produce the enmity and persecution of the Christians on the part of Al Chakim. These and still other falsehoods and calumnies increased the hatred and the persecution towards the Jews in European countries; and when at a later period the pious crusaders from the west went eastward, to snatch the Holy Land from the power of the Mahomedans, they found ample opportunity to execute a pious and holy vengeance on these poor Israelites, as I shall relate somewhat more circumstantially hereafter.

In 4781 (1021), his son Calif Dahir ibn Chakim became sovereign. He was a friend to the Christians, and permitted them to rebuild their destroyed church.

In 4800 (1040), the Tartaric hordes made a third irruption under their leader Seldjuk, who was of the tribe Hildokiao. This chief was uncommonly successful in his conquests: he made war against the Egyptian Calif, and conquered Syria, and Jerusalem with its environs. He bitterly persecuted the Christians in the Holy City, and they had to endure terrible exactions, and were compelled to submit entirely to his arbitrary will.

In 4859 (1099), the Arabs under the Egyptian Calif again acquired Jerusalem and the surrounding country, and drove the Tartars away from there, and thought themselves secure in possession of the city, when suddenly a new enemy came over them, with whom they had to wage a long and bloody strife. This enemy was the Europeans of the West, who in that very year entered the land of Palestine and conquered it.

A Short Review Of This Period.

There exist but few documents concerning the situation of the Jewish literati and literature in Palestine of this period. But at the time of Mahomed, the most distinguished and learned person amongst the Jews, Rabbi Yizchak Ha-Gaon, resided in Babylon. The title of Nahssi had at that time been given up for that of Gaon.

In 4521 (761), there arose a serious contest in Babylon between the Resh Gelutha, and the celebrated Rab Acha, of Shabecheh, the author of the She'elthoth שאלתות through which cause the latter was not chosen as Gaön, wherefore he quitted Babylon and repaired to Palestine, where he ended his days.

In 4543 (733), there lived in Beth-Zur, a town not far from Hebron, a man by the name of 'Anan ענן a scholar of the then Gaon, Rabbi Yehudai, of Babylon. He had observed in his scholar that he had neither affection for, nor faith in our tradition as an exposition of the written law; wherefore he ('Anan) could not be chosen either as Resh Gelutha or Gaon. He returned, therefore, to his native country, Palestine, and formed a new sect, the leader of which he became, by openly preaching against our system of tradition. The sect of the Sadducees, who only adopted the written law and rejected the tradition, had gradually fallen entirely into decay after the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, and had become nearly dissolved. But the appearance of 'Anan gave them new life, and they soon increased and spread extensively in Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa. In Palestine, they had yet another learned chief, Sheich Abu al Ferag, who wrote a work, bearing his own name, concerning the principles of his sect, and which contains much that is absurd and blasphemous. He is the same Abu al Ferag who is frequently mentioned in the Opinions of Maimonides תשובות הרמב״ם. Anan had a wife who was called Al Me'alma, i. e. the learned, the instructress, who was acknowledged chief of his sect after the death of her husband, and was consulted in all cases of doubt; and as everything was decided according to her opinion and practice, it came to be customary to ask among the sect, "How did Al Me'alma on that occasion? or what was her practice in that case?" and every one looked up to her for guidance. When, at a later period, Rabbi Joseph Ben Ali became Nahssi in Africa, he used every effort to suppress this sect in all directions,--so that it was nearly dissolved, and but few vestiges are found thereof at the present time; since all that is left are the few Caraites קראים who only acknowledge the written law, are partly descended from the ancient Sadducees, and are found in several places in Asia and Egypt. We find mentioned in Abn Ezra's Commentary on the Pentateuch, several ridiculous expositions of many passages of Holy Writ ascribed to a certain Anan; it would, therefore, appear that he also had composed a commentary on the books of Moses.

In general the situation of the Jews, under the rule of the Mahomedans, was quite favourable, and considerably better than under the Greeks, since the former are naturally more favourably inclined to Judaism;--so that scarcely any persecution took place in this whole period. Only when the Calif Omar ibn Kataf banished, in the year 4398 (638), the Christians from Tiberias, the same fate was soon meted out to the Jews, and they also had to quit this place.

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