Who Is Israel? Episodes 1-4
Here’s the transcript for Who Is Israel? Episode 3. Please excuse the less than perfect wording and format.
In Episode 2, we talked about the division of Israel into two kingdoms after Solomon’s death, the destruction and dispersions of Judah and Ephraim into the nations, the partial return of Judah, and finally the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome and the rescattering of Judah across the world.
In this episode, we’ll see what happened to the Jews after the coming of Yeshua and Christianity.
At the beginning of the first century, the world was divided into three groups. The first group was Judah, who was living all over the Roman Empire and beyond, but concentrated in distinct insular communities. The second group was Ephraim, who was also scattered across Africa and Eurasia, but had been mostly absorbed into the peoples of the lands where they lived. The third group of people in the first century, and by far the largest was the Gentiles…which was everyone else.
The word Gentile comes from a Latin word that roughly means clan, and is usually translated into English as nations or peoples. Biblically speaking, a Gentile is someone from any nation other than Israel.
Around 30 AD a man named Jesus began upsetting this new order. He claimed to be the Messiah that Moses had prophesied and that the Jews had long awaited. He upset a lot of theological apple carts and made enemies of most of the Jewish religious leaders. They conspired with one of his disciples, Judas, and pressured the Roman governor into having him crucified.
Much to their chagrin, Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose from the grave on the third day and later ascended into heaven. During his ministry on earth, his influence was mostly limited to the land of Judea and its immediate neighbors. However, within a few years Jews over all over the Empire were beginning to believe in him.
Faith in Jesus, or Yeshua as his friends and family would have known him, remained mostly a Jewish thing at first, but another upstart named Paul began teaching uncircumcised Gentiles about him too.
Yeshua’s followers went by various names, depending on region and religious practices: the Sect of the Nazarenes, The Way, and eventually Christians.
The followers of Yeshua split first century Judah into three more groups:
traditional Judaism, which rejected the Messiah of Jesus, the Circumcision, which accepted Jesus as Messiah, but required complete ritual conversion to Judaism for all converts, whether Gentile or Hellenized Jews, and The Way, which was more lenient of new converts.
Although the Jewish people mostly stuck with what they knew of as Judaism, many believed in Yeshua and fell into one of the two camps of the Circumcision or The Way. Some among the Gentiles, which inevitably included many lost Ephraimites, converted to Judaism, but many more left their ancestral paganism for faith in Jesus.
Some Gentiles, Greeks in particular, converted to Judaism, but the Gentiles of that time were almost universally polytheistic pagans, meaning they worshiped many gods at the same time. Monotheism, a belief in only one God, was rare and often thought to be tantamount to atheism.
These religious upheavals did not help the already tense relationship between Judah and Rome.
Non-Messianic Jews separated themselves from Messianic Jews, sometimes persecuting them violently, and Roman persecution of Christians added incentive for the traditional Jews to distance themselves from Messianic Jews and especially from the Gentile converts whom they rejected outright.
As the Jews came to be as hated as the Christians, Many new Gentile converts encouraged this separation and changed their own religious practices to make the difference even more pronounced. They stopped keeping a seventh-day Sabbath. They changed which days of the week they fasted on. They changed the dates and traditions of God’s holy days or else stop keeping them altogether. They did everything they could not to look or sound like Jews while still worshiping a Jewish God and a Jewish Messiah.
Within a few centuries, The Way became Christianity while those of the Circumcision either returned to Judaism or joined Christianity, abandoning their traditions and many of the commandments of God altogether. Meanwhile, Gentiles including many Jews and Ephraimites, who had long forgotten their identity, continued converting to Christianity, making the gap between the faiths even greater.
Once again the end result was two opposing camps: Judah, separated and despised by the world, and Christianity, wanting to be part of the world, despised for a time, but eventually conquering Rome itself.
Jesus once told his disciples that men would hate them because they first hated him. Because men hate God, his law, and everything that highlights their ultimate accountability to him as creator and judge, man’s evil inclination drives him to hate that which God loves. It wouldn’t matter if the Jews had behaved with perfect righteousness throughout their history. Men will hate God’s chosen people because they first hated God.
During the formative centuries of rabbinic Judaism, the Jewish people became more resistant to assimilation than ever before. There was no place on earth that they could call their own, nowhere to live according to their own customs as every other people did, yet they remained visibly distinct from the surrounding Christian and Pagan peoples.
For the next seventeen hundred years, Christians were fickle friends to the Jews at best. One King invited them to settle within his borders, and then another kicked them out again. Warm welcome turned to indifference, resentment, suspicion, and finally persecution. Sometimes there were religious reasons for these shifts and sometimes political, but there were always economic reasons, and people are naturally suspicious of others who look and behave differently, who don’t blend in, and this same pattern has repeated up to the present day.
Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Christendom was engaged in an existential struggle with Islam, and the Jews were often caught in the middle, alternately persecuted and befriended by one side or the other.
After the Middle Ages, came the Reconquista and the expulsion from Spain, migration to the new world, Soviet pogroms, and the Nazi genocide. In other words, more of the same.
Until recent decades, Muslims were usually kinder to the Jews than Christians were, especially in Spain, but the Jews have never been truly secure or welcomed for too many generations in any land, the United States being one of the very rare exceptions.
This perennial anti-semitism was fertile ground for malicious myth-making.
Accusations of kidnapping of children, human sacrifice, and drinking or eating human blood, especially at Passover, were common in the late Middle Ages.
More recent myths usually feature the idea that contemporary Jews, especially those of Ashkenazi descent, were never really Jews at all, but some other group of people, who usurped the identity of Judah in order to…
Well, the why of such theories is never very clear.
The fact is that modern genetic science has conclusively demonstrated that the Jewish populations from all over the world are related. The Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe have about 30 to 40 percent European and other DNA add mixtures, which is what you might expect after thousands of years of living in exile in foreign lands.
Despite much wild-eyed speculation to the contrary, the people known today as Jews all over the world are genetically descended from people who lived in the region of Judea about 2,000 years ago.
So where is Israel today? I want you to remember back to episode 1. If you haven’t seen it pause this video now and go back and watch it. Episodes 1 & 2 provide important background information for what I’m about to tell you.
Here’s a quick recap for those of you who have already seen the previous episodes. When Jacob was still alive, Israel and a small mixed multitude went into Egypt at the Exodus. Israel, plus a large mixed multitude, left Egypt and, in the promised land, Israel gained yet more mixed multitudes through conquest, assimilation, and intermarriage.
Long after the nation of Israel was divided into separate kingdoms, Ephraim was scattered to the world and mixed with the native peoples wherever they went. Judah was also scattered and mixed, although to a lesser extent than Ephraim. Some from the southern tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon were scattered with Ephraim or deliberately rejected their ancestral heritage, and some from the northern tribes of Israel were absorbed by Judah. But most of them adapted to pagan and Christian cultures so long ago that they no longer have any idea that they might once have been part of Israel.
Over the many centuries since Jacob died, Israel has adopted, assimilated, conquered, and married people from every nation on earth, even while they themselves were scattered, enslaved, assimilated, and married in the opposite direction.
The consistent pattern of history is that of Israel divided into two camps. In one camp are the people we call Jews. Today, just as they were at the time of Moses, David, and Jesus, the Jews consists of a core of the natural children of Jacob with a significant component of people adopted from the nations. The second camp of Israel also includes a core of physical descendants of Jacob, but that core is impossible to identify or count today.
Where did those lost Ephraimites go? Who are they? More importantly, does it even matter?
I’ll answer that and other important questions in Episode 4. Don’t miss it!
This is Jay Carper from AmericanTorah.com, for a stronger America and the kingdom of God.