The history of the Jewish people has been preserved through the Torah, the feasts, archaeology, the land and of course the people themselves. It has been marvelled at by commentators worldwide. If one were to throw a dice, what would be the odds of surviving through a series of successive world empires in the ancient world, through persecution more targeted, intense and sustained than any people have ever encountered in the middle ages and even in recent times?
A Few Telling Quotes from Notable Commentators
Mark Twain “All things are mortal, but the Jew. All other forces pass, but he remains, What is the secret of his immortality?”[i]
Leo Tolstoy “The Jew is the symbol of eternity.”[ii]
Blaise Pascal on being asked by Louis XIV for proof for the existence of God. “Why, the Jews, your Majesty-the Jews.”[iii]
Preservation from Ancient times
The record of the Exodus is contained in the Torah and is part of the most widely read piece of literature on earth. The Pesach traditions and order testify of the same. Jewish children still ask the same questions and receive the same responses as outlined in Exodus 13 and 14 about what happened and why Passover should be observed as a memorial.
There is abundant historical evidence for Jewish events in the Assyrian Empire. One can see many artefacts to support this in the British Museum such as the siege of Lachish. This consists of giant wall murals occupying a lengthy room with that event carved in stone.[iv] In Room 55 one can see Sennacherib’s prism boasting that he trapped King Hezekiah like a bird. 2 kings 18-19 chronicles Sennacherib’s arrogance and threats towards Judah but also mentions that the Angel of the Lord slew 185, 000 Assyrians (2 Kings 19:35) when Judah would have had no hope of surviving otherwise.
It would be a gross understatement to say that Judah was not comfortable during the Babylonian exile, yet Daniel was made the third ruler in the kingdom (Daniel 5:16). Why Daniel was appointed third and not second under Belshazzar remained a mystery until in 1854, colonel J E Taylor discovered the Nabonidus cylinder which proved that Nabonidus was a co-regent with Belshazzar king of the Babylonians.[v]
Archaeological evidence in support of Jewish and Persian interaction in the British museum includes items such as the Cyrus cylinder enabling peoples to return to their homelands (Isaiah 44:28-45:6; c.f. 2 Chronicles 36:20-23; Ezra 1:1-4) and Artaxerxes drinking vessels which Nehemiah might have served him with (Nehemiah 2:1). But also, every time Purim is celebrated, again in a fun way for the children, but equally a serious and sobering reminder of actual historic events in the book of Esther when Haman tried to wipe Israel of the face of the earth.
How did the Jewish people fare amongst the Greeks? For this we need to look at some other historical sources. For certain Daniel prophesied of the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman Empires (Daniel 2:1-49; 7:1-28) and more specifically of Greece defeating Medo-Persia and the Greek empire being split and governed by four rulers and the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, (Daniel 8:1-14) though these other sources help us to trace some of these events.
Josephus recalls a fascinating account of Alexander the Great having a dream before entering Jerusalem and Jaddua the High Priest having a similar experience and a joyful meeting followed. Immediately before Jaddua was in great trepidation but when the book of Daniel was read to Alexander, he considered himself the person intended.[vi]Like Pesach and Purim, Hanukkah also relates to important events in Jewish history and 2 Maccabees 10:1-9 recalls the account of when the Maccabees and their followers recovered the temple and the city and celebrated the first Hanukkah. We know that Hanukkah was also celebrated late in the Second Temple period since Jesus celebrated the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) in the temple (John 10:22).
Again under Roman occupation it is incredible that the Jewish people survived in an effort to defend the temple which was destroyed in AD70 and after the Bar Kochba revolt in AD135-135. Much more could be written between then and the Middle Ages particularly with regard to Anti-Semitism in all its insidious forms.
[i] Quotes on Israel and Judaism: Mark Twain https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/mark-twain-quotations-on-judaism-and-israel
[iii] Steve Maltz The Mystery of Jewish Survival https://www.premier.org.uk/Blogs/Yeshua-Explored/The-Mystery-of-Jewish-Survival
[iv] The British Museum Relief https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/W_1856-0909-14_7
[v] Brian Edwards and Clive Anderson Through the British Museum with the Bible (Day One, 2004; Leominster), p52
[vi] The New Complete Works of Josephus Commentary by Paul Maier Translated by William Whiston (Kregel; 1999, Grand Rapids), Jewish Antiquities Book 11, Chapter 8 pp382-386