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From Ur to Eternity (Volume 1)

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  • 7 – Chapter 7


    Samuel's career marks the end of Israel as a tribal confederacy and the beginning of its history as a monarchy.
    The Israelites demanded a new form of government
    headed by a king as a means of unifying the tribes and
    providing an adequate defense. Samuel warned that if
    they chose a king, they would be denying the primacy of
    God. In addition, he said, they would lose their personal
    independence and become servants of the king.
    When the Israelites rejected Samuel's warnings,
    he anointed Saul as their king. At first, Saul proved to be
    a forceful military leader, as shown when the Ammonites
    attacked the city of Jabesh-gilead...

    Then Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged
    Jabesh-gilead, and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash,
    "Make a treaty with us, and we will be your subjects."
    But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, "Only on this
    condition will I make a treaty with you, that I scoop out all your
    right eyes, as a disgrace upon all Israel."
    The elders of Jabesh said to him, "Give us seven days
    so that we can send messengers through all the territory of
    Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give our-
    selves up to you."

    When the messengers came to Gibeah, Saul's home-
    town, they reported the terms of the disaster, and all the people wept aloud. Saul was just coming from the field with his
    oxen; and Saul said, "Why are the people weeping?" So they
    told him the message of the men of Jabesh.

    And the spirit of God came upon Saul, and he became
    very angry. He took a pair of oxen, and cut them in pieces and
    sent messengers to carry the pieces throughout all the territory of Israel, saying, "Whoever does not join Saul and
    Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!" Then the fear of
    Adonai fell upon the people, and they all came as one man.
    He assembled three hundred thousand men of Israel and
    thirty thousand men of Judah at Bezek. And they said to the
    messengers who had come, "This is what you shall say to the
    men of Jabesh-gilead: Tomorrow, when the sun is hot, you
    shall be saved." When the messengers came and told the
    men of Jabesh, they were glad.

    So the men of Jabesh said, tomorrow we will surrender to you, and you may do as you please with us. The next
    day Saul divided his soldiers into three detachments; and
    they attacked the camp during the morning watch, and they
    cut down the Ammonites. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.
    Then the people said to Samuel, "Who are the people
    who asked, 'Shall Saul reign over us?' Bring us the men, so
    that we may put them to death."

    But Saul said, "No one shall be put to death, for today
    Adonai has preserved Israel."

    Then Samuel said to the people, "Come, let us go to
    Gilgal and there reaffirm the kingdom." So all the people went
    to Gilgal, and there, before Adonai, they crowned Saul king.
    There they sacrificed peace offerings before Adonai, and
    Saul and all the people of Israel rejoiced.

    I Samuel 11:1-14


    1. Why would a monarchy be more able to unite the
    people and provide for defense than a loose tribal confederacy?
    2. Why was Samuel opposed to choosing a king to
    govern the Israelites?
    3. Who governed the Israelites before King Saul?
    4. One of the problems with the judges system
    was that there was no government permanently in place.
    Instead a judge stepped in and took over whenever the
    nation was in danger. What were the advantages and disadvantages of this somewhat libertarian system as compared to a monarchy?
    5. Why did the Israelites insist upon choosing a
    6. Why did the prophet Samuel finally agree to
    crown Saul?Learn More

  • 9 Chapter 9

    CIVIL WAR IN JUDEA (p. 86)
    After eighty years of freedom, Judea became a vassal of
    a foreign power. In a dispute between two claimants to
    the high priesthood, the Roman general Pompey was
    called in as arbitrator. In 65 B.C.E., Pompey decided in
    favor of the weaker of the two brothers, so that he could
    govern Palestine himself. Then Pompey marched on
    Jerusalem and captured the city, killing thousands of
    Jews. He awarded the priesthood to Hyrcanus II and
    imprisoned Aristobolus II.
    When Pompey had heard the claims of these two, he
    condemned Aristobulus for his violent procedure. He then
    spoke civilly to them and sent them away, and told them that
    when he came again into their country, he would settle all
    their affairs. In the meantime he ordered them to keep the
    peace, and treated Aristobulus civilly lest he should make the
    nation revolt and hinder his return. This Aristobulus did, for
    without waiting for any further determination which Pompey
    had promised them, he went to the city Delius and then
    marched into Judea.
    But when Pompey commanded Aristobulus to deliver
    up the fortresses he held and to send an order to their commanders under his own hand for that purpose, for they had
    been forbidden to deliver them up upon any other commands,
    he indeed agreed to do so, but still he retired in displeasure
    to Jerusalem and made preparation for war. Thereupon
    Aristobulus repented of what he was doing and came to
    Pompey, (promised to) give him money and admit him into
    Jerusalem. So Pompey, upon his entreaty, forgave him and
    sent Gabinius and soldiers with him to receive the money and
    the city. Yet no part of this was performed, but Gabinius came
    back, both being excluded from the city and receiving none of
    the money promised because Aristobulus' soldiers would not
    permit the agreements to be executed.
    At this, Pompey was very angry, so he put Aristobulus into
    prison and came himself to the city.
    Now there was dissension among the men who were
    within the city, for they did not agree as to what was to be
    done. Some thought it best to deliver up the city to Pompey,
    but Aristobulus' party begged them to shut the gates because
    he was kept in prison. Now these prevented the others and
    seized the Temple, cutting off the bridge which extended from
    it to the city, and prepared themselves for a siege. But the others admitted Pompey's army and delivered up both the city
    and the king's palace to him.
    Because the Romans understood this, on those days
    which we call Sabbaths, they shot nothing at the Jews but
    raised up their earthen banks, and brought up their siege
    engines so that they might be put to work on the next day.
    Anyone may hence learn what very great piety we exercise
    toward God and the observance of His laws, since the priests
    were not at all hindered from their sacred ministrations by
    their fear during this siege. For although the city was taken in
    the third month, on the day of the fast, upon the hundred and
    seventy-ninth olympiad, when Gaius Antonius and Marcus
    Tullius Cicero were consuls, and the enemy then fell upon
    them and cut the throats of those that were in the Temple, yet
    those that offered the sacrifices could not be compelled to
    run away, neither by the fear they were in for their own lives.
    But when the battering-engine was brought near, the greatest of the towers was shaken by it and fell down, and broke
    down a part of the fortifications, so that the enemy poured in
    Some of the Jews were killed by the Romans and
    some by one another. Indeed, there were some who threw
    themselves down the precipices for they were not able to
    bear the miseries they were under.
    Of the Jews there fell twelve thousand, but of the
    Romans very few. Pompey and some of those who were with
    him also went into it (the Holy of Holies) and saw all that
    which it was unlawful for any other men to see except for the
    high priests. There were in that Temple the golden table, the
    holy candlestick, and the libation vessels, and besides these
    there were among the treasures two thousand talents of
    sacred money. Yet Pompey touched nothing of all this on
    account of his regard for religion. The next day he gave an
    order to those who had charge of the Temple to cleanse it
    and to bring what offerings the law required to God, and
    restored the high priesthood to Hyrcanus, both because he
    had been useful to him in other respects and because he had
    hindered the Jews in the country from giving Aristobulus any
    assistance in his war against him. He also beheaded those
    who had been the authors of that war. He made Jerusalem
    tributary to the Romans, and put them under the rule of the
    Roman governor.

    The causes of this misery which came upon
    Jerusalem were Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, by raising dissension one against the other. For now we lost our liberty and
    became subject to the Romans. Moreover, the Romans
    exacted of us, in a short time, more than ten thousand talents; and the royal authority, which was an office formerly
    bestowed on those who were high priests by the right of their
    family, because the property of private men. He also carried
    bound along with him Aristobulus and his children; for he had
    two daughters all and as many sons, one of whom ran away.

    Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 46-79
    1. What happened when Pompey ordered
    Aristobolus to surrender his fortresses?
    2. Why did Pompey stop the war against
    3. Did Aristobolus keep his promise?
    4. How did Pompey conquer Jerusalem?
    5. Why didn't the Romans attack Jerusalem on the
    6. Why did Pompey restore the priesthood to Hyrcanus?
    7. According to Josephus who was to blame for starting the war?
    8. How did Pompey punish Aristobolus? Learn More
  • 24-Chapter 24


    Isaac Abrabanel (1437-1508) was a statesman, philosopher, and biblical scholar. He was one of the many Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. Abrabanel he served many kings. He was the treasurer of King Alfonso of Portugal, a member of the royal court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and an adviser to the royal court of Naples. His experience gave him a special insight into political, governmental, and economic problems.
    Here are his ideas on the advantages of a democracy over a monarchy.

    Whether a king is a necessity; needed for the people, or it is possible to exist without him. The philosophers think that the service rendered by the king to the people in the political organization is the same as the relation of the heart to the body. Now, if the investigators think that a kingdom must be based on three things (firstly, unity; secondly, continuity; thirdly, absolute power), then their conclusion as to the need and necessity of a monarch is not valid. For it is not impracticable that a people should have many leaders, united, agreeing, and concurring in one counsel, to decide administrative and judicial matters. Then, why should not their administration be for one year, or for three years, like the years of an employee or less than that?

    When the turn for other judges and officers comes, they will arise in their stead, and investigate whether the first ones have not failed in their trust, and he whom they condemn shall make good the wrong he committed. Then again, why should not their power be limited and regulated according to the laws and statutes? A common-sense principle tells us that when one man disagrees with the majority, the law is according to the majority. It is more likely that one man should trespass, through his folly or strong temptations or anger, than that many men taking counsel should transgress. For if one them turns aside from the right path, the others will protest against him. Moreover, since their administration is temporary, and they must render account after a short while, the fear of man will be upon them.

    See the countries where the administration is in the hands of kings, and you will observe their abominations and corruptions, every one of them does that which is right in his own eyes; for the earth is filled with wickedness through them. On the other hand, we see this day many countries where the administration is in the hands of judges; temporary rulers are elected there, and over them is a chief against whom there is no rising up; they choose that which is right by definite regulations; they rule over the people, and decide concerning matters appertaining to war.

    This was written by an anonymous Italian Jew who witnessed the suffering of his people.

    In the Year 1492 during the reign of Ferdinand, God again punished the remnant of the Jewish people. By having them expelled from Spain Ferdinand had wrested the city of Granada from the Moslems on January 7th (actually January 2nd) and soon thereafter ordered all Jews to be deported from Castile, Catalonia, Aragon, Galicia, Majorca, Minorca, the Basque provinces, Valencia and Andalusia, and the islands of Sardinia and Sicilia. The king gave them three months' time to leave the country. On May 1 st the edict was read in every city (the nineteenth day of the Omer and expired one day before Tishah be-Av).. . . I would estimate that around 50,000 families were affected. They owned homes, land, vineyards, and cattle. The majority, however, were artisans. There were many yeshivot in Spain, and some of the heads were Rabbi Isaac Aboab in Guadalajara, Rabbi Isaac Bezodo in Leon, and Rabbi Jacob Habib in Salamanca. In the latter city lived the great mathematician, Abraham Zacuto, whose advice was sought on all mathematical problems that could not be solved by the Christian scholars.

    During the three months left to them the Jews tried everything in their power to reverse the decree. Their leaders were: Rabbi Don Abraham Senior, the head of the Spanish communities, who always traveled with a train of thirty mules; Rabbi Meir Hamelamud, the king's secretary; and Don Isaac Abrabanel , who had escaped from the Portuguese king, and was appointed to the same post in the Spanish court .... Don Isaac Abrabanel was later exiled to Naples where he was held in high esteem by the king of Naples . . . . Isaac Abrabanel used to call Don Abraham Senior "Soneh-Or" ("Hater of Light:' a pun on Senior) because he was an epicurus (heretic). He was correct, for at the age of eighty, Senior and his whole family (except his brother Samuel) were converted.
    Don Abraham had arranged the match between the king and the queen.... Because of this, he had been appointed rabbi of the Spanish Jews, but without their consent. An agreement was almost reached that the Jews would pay an enormous amount of money and be permitted to stay, but it was thwarted by an official (Torquemada) who reminded the queen of the story of the cross. The queen then gave an answer, similar to the saying of King Solomon (Proverbs 21:1), . . . adding, "Do you believe, that this was brought on you by us? It is God who controls the king's heart."

    The Jews realized then that the king was out to harm them and they abandoned all hope.... There was little time left, and ... they sold their homes, their land, and their cattle for paltry sums. As the king did not allow the export of gold or silver, they had to convert their money to textiles, furs, and other articles. One hundred and twenty thousand persons left for Portugal, following an agreement between the king of Portugal and a ... certain Don Vidal bar Benevenesti del Cavallaria .. . . The Jews had to pay one ducat for each per- son admitted, and one quarter of their goods in order to stay six months.... After the six months had elapsed, he (the king) enslaved them all and deported seven hundred children to the island of St. Thomas where they perished.... And so it came to pass, as it is said, "Your sons and daughters will be given to another people" (Deuteronomy 28:32).
    Many of the exiles went to Muslim countries, to Fez and to the Berber provinces, which were under the rule of the king of Tunis. The Muslims did not admit the Jews to their cities, and many died of starvation, many were devoured by lions and bears while lying exhausted on the outskirts of the cities. A Jew of Tlemcen named Abraham, who was viceroy to the king, admitted many of the exiles into the country, spending a fortune on their behalf. The Jews of North Africa were very helpful. But many of the exiles, finding no place that would receive them, returned to Spain and embraced Christianity. . . Because they had fled to glorify God's name, only a small number were converted.

    When the edict became known in other countries, ships arrived from Genoa to transfer the Jews. The sailors on these ships behaved atrociously towards them, robbing them and delivering most of them to the notorious pirate called the "Corsair of Genoa?' Those who managed to escape to Genoa were mercilessly mistreated by the populace, who went so far as to tear children from their mothers' breasts, and to convert them.

    Many boatloads of Jews from Sicily arrived in Naples. The king of Naples was friendly to the Jews, behaved merci- fully, and gave them financial assistance. The Jews of Naples provided the sufferers with good as much as they could, and dispatched messengers throughout Italy to collect money to sustain them. The Marranos in the city lent them money with- out interest. Even the Dominicans showed human sympathy. But all this was not sufficient to keep them alive. Many died of starvation, others sold their children to Christians to keep them alive. Finally, a plague spread among them, and many died, and those who remained alive were too tired to bury their dead.

    to settle on an island where they received land and homes. A few of the exiles settled in the various cities of Italy. Alexander Marx


    1. Why was the expulsion of the Jews a damaging event in Spanish history?

    2. How did the expulsion help other countries?

    3. What motivated the king and queen to drive out the Jews?

    4. What happened to the Jews who converted and remained in Spain?

    Some of the exiles sailed to Turkey. Many of them were thrown overboard and drowned, but those who managed to reach Turkey were warmly received by the sultan because they were artisans. He lent them money, which enabled them.

    Learn More

  • 13 Chapter 13 – Alexander the Great


    Alexander the Great, the king of Macedonia, was a military conqueror. In 331 B.C.E. the whole Persian world
    was in his power. Alexander may have passed through
    Palestine on his way to Egypt. The historian Josephus
    claimed that Alexander visited Jerusalem and paid
    homage to the high priest Jaddua, whom he credited
    with his victories over the Persian army.
    Josephus transmits what must have been an old
    tradition regarding early contacts between the Jews and
    Alexander the Great.

    But when the seven months of the siege of Tyre were
    over, and after two months of the siege of Gaza, Sanballat
    died. Now Alexander, when he had taken Gaza, made haste
    to go up to Jerusalem. Jaddua the high priest, when he heard
    that, was in agony and terror, not knowing how he could meet
    the Macedonians since the king was displeased at his former

    Then God warned him in a dream, which came upon
    him after he had offered sacrifice, telling him that he should
    take courage, adorn the city, and open the gates; that the
    people should appear in white garments, but that he and the
    priests should meet the king in the garments proper to their
    order, without the dread of any ill consequences, which the
    providence of God would prevent. Thereupon, he rose from
    his sleep greatly rejoicing and declared to all the revelation
    he had received from God, according to which he acted
    entirely and so waited for the coming of the king.

    When he understood that Alexander was not far from
    the city, he went out in procession, with the priests and the
    multitude of the citizens. The procession was venerable and
    the manner of it different from that of other nations. It reached
    a place called Sapha; which name, translated into Greek, signifies a lookout," for you have a view from there both of
    Jerusalem and of the Temple. The Phoenicians and
    Chaldeans who followed him thought that the king in his
    anger would naturally permit them to plunder the city and torment the high priest to death, but the very reverse happened.
    For Alexander, when he saw the multitude at a distance, in
    white garments, while the priests stood clothed with fine linen
    and the high priest in purple and scarlet clothing, with his
    miter on his head with the golden plate on which the name of
    God was engraved, he approached by himself and bowed
    down before the name (of God), and first saluted the high

    The Jews all together, with one voice, saluted
    Alexander, and surrounded him, whereupon the kings of
    Syria and the others were surprised at what Alexander had
    done and supposed him disordered in his mind. However,
    Parmenio alone went up to him and asked him how it came
    to pass that when all others bowed before him, he should
    bow before the high priest of the Jews. He replied to him, "I
    did not bow before him, but before that God who has honored
    him with the high priesthood; for I saw this very person in a
    dream, in this very apparel when I was at Dios, in Macedonia.
    When I was considering how I might obtain dominion over
    Asia, he exhorted me to make no delay but boldly to pass
    over the sea, for he would lead my army and would give me
    dominion over the Persians. Since then, having seen no other
    in that clothing, and now seeing this person in it, and remembering that vision and the exhortation which I had in my
    dream, I believe that I bring this army under divine guidance
    and shall therewith conquer Darius and destroy the power of
    the Persians, and that all things will succeed according to
    what is in my own mind."

    When the Book of Daniel was shown him, wherein
    Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the
    empire of the Persians, he supposed that he himself was the
    person intended. As he was then glad, he dismissed the multitude for the present, but the next day he called them to him
    and bade them ask what favors they wished of him, where-
    upon the high priest requested that they might observe the
    laws of their forefathers and might pay no tribute in the seventh year. He granted all they requested. And when they
    entreated him that he should permit the Jews in Babylon and
    Media to enjoy their own laws also, he willingly promised to
    do what they requested.

    Josephus, Antiquities 325-329


    1. Why was Jaddua afraid of Alexander?
    2. What changed Jaddua's mind?
    3. Who wanted to plunder Jerusalem?
    4. Why was Alexander respectful and friendly to
    the Jews?
    5. What did Alexander read in the Book of Daniel?
    6. What favors did Jaddua ask from Alexander?
    What was Alexander's answer? Learn More

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