Roots of Antisemitism in The Bible

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The word Antisemitism is a modern word that literally means “Hostility to the Semite people”. But from its origin in the 19 century in Germany, the real meaning was “Hate and prejudice against the Jews”.

Although the word is modern, its roots are very old.

Wars and prejudice against people is not something special. In fact, this is something that is common to all the human race in all history and pre-history.

But with the Jews there is something unique, and the fact that there is a special word, that is known internationally, shows that there is something different about hating the Jews.

What is so special? Historically, we can say that in the last 2000 thousand years, Jews were persecuted everywhere they lived, while not having a land of their own (until 1948). This is a very ancient nation that suffers prejudice in every place it is found.

Is there a reason for that?

Let’s open our Bible and check what it has to say about it.

The suffering of the Jews was permitted by the Lord

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” (Zechariah 3:1-2)

This prophecy was given by Zechariah, according to the Bible scholars, around the year 520 BC (more than 2500 years ago).

Note that the Lord rebukes Satan and explains that He chose Jerusalem. Why does he need to rebuke?

We know that Satan cannot do anything without direct permission from the Lord. (See Job 1:12). So the Lord rebukes Satan for what he does to the Jews, but it was done with the Lord’s permission.

Prophecies about antisemitism

And it shall come to pass
That just as you were a curse among the nations,
O house of Judah and house of Israel... (Zechariah 8:13)

Zechariah says that Jews are  “a curse among the nations”.

therefore prophesy, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Because they made you desolate and swallowed you up on every side, so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations, and you are taken up by the lips of talkers and slandered by the people”

‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I have spoken in My jealousy and My fury, because you have borne the shame of the nations.”

(Ezekiel 36:3, 6)

Judea and Israel are “the possession of the nations” and are “taken up by the lips and slanders” of those nations. They become “the shame of the nations“.

Those prophecies predict what we know today: Jews became scattered among all nations, and suffer from mocking, slander and persecutions.

Until when?

If the Lord chose Israel as his people, why does the nation need to suffer so much and until when?

For the first question: why – all the Biblical prophets gave the answer: for neglecting the Lord and following the idolatry of the nations.

For the second question – until when – the Bible is very clear:

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. 23 And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord,” says the Lord God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. 24 For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. 28 Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:22-28)

Ezekiel wrote more than 2500 years ago exactly what is going to happen:

After the people of Judea and Israel “profaned the name of the Lord” among the nations, The lord will restore them and will bring them back to their land. After that He will clean them from their filthiness. He then will give them a new heart and a new spirit within them.

We can see the restoration of the people of Judea in the land of Israel.

Could this be the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy?

Finding the rare Irises of Israel

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When I was a young boy, I was fascinated by the Irises of Israel, and wanted to find all of them. It took me several years until I got them all.

Israel is blessed with many types of wild Irises, most of them very rare and many of them endemic (meaning – they cannot be found anywhere else in the world).

The most beautiful ones are also the rarest ones and they are very limited to small sites.

Moreover, their time to blossom is very short, sometimes only three weeks. They all blossom in the spring, between February and April, each has its own different time.

In a previous post I suggested that the Iris may be the Shoshan (Lily) of the Bible.

The first one that I saw, grows actually very close to where I was growing – a kibbutz in the north of the country. This is also one of the most beautiful ones.

In Hebrew we call it “Spectacular Iris” and its English name is Lortet’s Iris:

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The second one I found, grows in limited area in lower Galilee and is called “Nazareth Iris”. The best place to find it is around the the city of Nazareth:

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A close relative of the previous one is “Mt. Hermon Iris”.

It grows in Mt. Hermon and Golan Heights and nowhere else in the world! Its flowers are the largest among all the Irises growing in Israel:

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One of the most famous of the Israeli Irises grows on top of Gilboa mountain. It is also very rare but so beautiful! It is called after the mountain: “Gilboa Iris”. Not like the previous ones that are white with dots, this one is purple.

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When you go southern, the colors of the Irises become darker.

In the most populated area of Israel, the coastal plain, where almost no wild land can be found anymore, there grows one of the rarest Irises. It does not grow anywhere else in the world.

Many fights of nature lovers against initiatives to build new neighborhoods on those lands, resulted in declared nature reserves inside the cities that protect those beautiful flowers.

This one is called “Coastal Iris” or “Purple Iris” and is found inside the city of Netanya, very close to Tel Aviv.

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Some of those amazing flowers grow in the desert, and when they blossom, you do not believe that you are in an arid area.

One of those is the purple “Negev Iris” that grows only in the Negev in Israel and Sinai on sand dunes.

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Its relative grows on the hills of the city of Arad, and is almost black!

It is also endemic to Israel and Jordan and is called “Judean Iris”.

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The third famous “desert” Iris grows in a very limited area in the Negev and Jordan. It is a small one and is called “Petra Iris”

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Those were only a few from the many Irises that grow in our county.

It is a challenge to find them but a great reward!

Today my son found a quail in school

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Today my son found an exhausted quail in the schoolyard. He took the bird in his hand. The bird was calm, then it spread its wings and flew away.

The quail is a bird from the family of the pheasants. It is wild migratory bird  in our area. They migrate in the autumn from Africa to Europe, and the other way around in the spring. They fly at night, and because their wings are relatively small to carry their weight, they are very exhausted in the morning and are very easy to catch.

When the sons of Israel were in the desert, around 3200 years ago, a big flock of quails stopped near them and provided them some good meat.

Now a wind went out from the Lord, and it brought quail from the sea and left them fluttering near the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and about a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, and about two cubits above the surface of the ground. (Numbers 11, 31)

The almond Tree

11 Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.” 12 Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word.” (Jeremiah 1, 11-12)

In the first chapter of Jeremiah, Jeremiah tells us about a vision in which he sees a branch of almond tree.

In Hebrew, the word is not just a ‘branch (Anaf – עָנָף) as translated here, but a ‘dry branch’ (Makel -מַקֵּל).

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The almond tree, during fall, has no leaves. In this season it is difficult to distinguish between a dry branch of an almond tree and a dry branch of any other tree.

Jeremiah can make the distinction. And therefore the Lord compliments him and says: “You have seen well”!

And the Lord continues: “for I am ready to perform My word”.

If you read it in Hebrew, there is a special meaning: “ready to perform my Word” or in better translation: be diligent to perform my Word.

Be diligent is: “shoqed” – שֹׁקֵד.

Almond in Hebrew is “shaqed” – שָׁקֵד.

So the vision of the almond – “shaqed” tells Jeremiah that the Lord is being diligent “shoqed” to perform his Word.

There are other verses in which the Lord uses the word “shoqed” with the same meaning. For example:

28 And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 31, 28)

Here again, the expression “watch over” that is used twice, is derived from the word  “shoqed” in Hebrew.

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Other almonds in the Bible

In the story of the rod of Aaron in the desert, the rod becomes a branch of an almond tree:

Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses went into the tabernacle of witness, and behold, the rod of Aaron, of the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth buds, had produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds. (Numbers 17, 8)

The Menorah (lamp) in the tabernacle has also almond shapes in it:

33 Three bowls shall be made like almond blossoms on one branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower, and three bowls made like almond blossoms on the other branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower—and so for the six branches that come out of the lampstand. (Exodus 25, 33)

Literal meaning of ‘Almond’ in Hebrew

Why is the almond tree called ‘shaqed’? is it related to the verb ‘shoqed’?

A common explanation for the connection between almond (shaqed) and ‘being diligent’ (shoqed) is the special way that the almond tree blossoms.

During February, when most trees in the mountains of Israel are without leaves, the almond tree blossoms with beautiful white flowers. This is the first sign for the coming spring.

This magnificent blossom in the middle of the winter might have brought our fathers to call the tree ‘shaqed’ for its hard and diligent work.

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Almond in the modern Israeli feast

In February, we celebrate in Israel the feast of “Tu-Bishvat”. This is also known as the “New year of the trees”. This feast is not mentioned in the Bible. Jews started to celebrate it not before 200 hundred years ago.

In the modern state of Israel, this is the day that is dedicated to planting new trees in the land. And the symbol of this day is the almond tree that blossoms in this time of the year.

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The first Martyrs

 

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In the book of Judges, Gideon is called to defeat the Midianites. His army is too big for that, so he is told to send many soldiers home:

And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.’” And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained. (Judges 7, 2-3)

This event happened near the spring of Harod, in the Jezreel valey. This place is more than 25 KM (15 miles) from Mount Gilead.

But the origin in Hebrew says something a little different. It is said to the people that are afraid to ‘go and watch from Mount Gilead’. In Hebrew the verb is “Yitzpor” (יִצְפֹּר) which means to ‘watch as a bird’.

So the people that were afraid were instructed to watch the battle from the mountain. Going 15 miles away may be too far to watch.

Moreover, Mount Gilead is where the Midianites came from. It does not make sense to send the people that are afraid out of their land to the land of the enemy.

How can we explain this?

The Hebrew meaning of Gilead

The Hebrew language in the Biblical times did not have vowel points. The vowel points were introduced into Hebrew only during the middle ages.

So if we take the Hebrew word ‘גלעד’ – Gil’ad, we can also pronounce it Gal’ed.

Both of those appear in the Bible with different meanings: Gil’ad is the name of the mountain ridge east to the Jordan river, whereas Gal’ed means a heap of stones.

Up on mount Gilboa – this is the mountain beneath which Spring of Harod flows – up on the mountain was found an ancient heap of stones – Gal’ed. Can this be the place where the people who were afraid were sent to watch? It is quite probable…

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Another heap of stones

The word Gal’ed means a heap of stones, but literally it means a “heap of stones as witness”. ‘Gal’ is a heap of stones, ‘Ed’ is a witness.

This word is used in the bible when Jacob and Laban set a covenant:

44 “Now therefore, come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me”. 45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 Then Jacob said to his brethren, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there on the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, but Jacob called it Gal’ed48 And Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me this day.” Therefore its name was called Gal’ed, 49 also Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from another. (Genesis 31, 44-49)

Let’s read these verses carefully:

Laban and Jacob want to make a covenant. They need to make some physical witness for their covenant. What do they do?

  1. So first they put a pillar from a stone.
  2. Then they gather stones and build a heap of them
  3. Then they eat on the heap.
  4. Laban calls the heap: “Jegar Sahadutha” and Jacob calls it: “Gal’ed“.
  5. They proclaim that the heap is a witness between them
  6. They give it another name “Mizpah“, which means a point of watching.

One interesting point here is that the heap of stones is used as a witness for covenant, but also a place for watching. This is very much like our story with Gideon: The people that were afraid were sent to the place of watching which is also the witness heap of stones.

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What is Jegar Sahadutha ?

Laban and Jacob call the heap the same name but each in his language. Jacob use Hebrew, therefore he calls it Gal’ed. Laban is Aramaic, and uses the Aramaic Language. Jegar Sahadutha in Aramaic is the same as Gal’ed in Hebrew: Jegar: heap of stones, Sahadutha – witness.

The Aramaic Language is very close to the Hebrew Language. Some parts in the Bible are written in Aramaic (chapters in Daniel and Ezra) and for the Hebrew reader are not very difficult to understand. Those two languages are Semitic languages.

Arabic is also a Semitic Language, but in a way not as close to Aramaic as Hebrew.

Still here, we find a word that is common to Aramaic and Arabic but not to Hebrew:

The word is ‘Sahaduta.

In Islam, the Arabic word Shahada is the testimony of a believer in his belief, that is said by each Muslim every day. From it was derived the word ‘Shahid‘ which means a person that manifests his belief. Today, Shahid means a person that kills himself with heretics to manifest his belief, but this is not the original meaning.

This concept is probably taken from Christianity, where the term Martyr, a Greek word that means the same thing, was used by the first christian believers much before Islam was founded.

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Summary

We saw here that the physical witness  – a heap of stones – was very important in the ancient Biblical times.

The Arabic word Shahid, is close to the word Sahadutha from the Bible and has the same meaning: Witness. The concept of Shahid was not invented by Islam but existed in early Christianity as Martyr.

Many ideas that we see in Islam, were originated from the Bible and from Christianity,  But Islam gave them some twist.

How Arab villages in Israel affirm the correctness of the Bible

Throughout history, Bible scholars were looking for evidence of the Bible stories in the land of Israel. Many were looking for names of places that appear in the Bible and trying to identify where they are.

The modern archaeology in Israel and modern Bible research are very serious in the way they examine the evidences. In very few places there were findings that had the name of the city written on a piece of clay. One famous example is the city of Gezer: Close to the site that is known as Tel Gezer, was found a stone on which it was engraved in ancient Hebrew: “Boundary of Gezer”:

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So in all other archaeological sites, how can we be sure whether the site represents an ancient Biblical site?

The answer is not so simple. In many cases there is a context of the findings that resembles the site. For example a palace or administrative building. Sometimes the geographical description in the bible appears the same as we see the place today.

But in the land of Israel, there is a spacial aid that comes from an unexpected source.

The Arab names

In Israel there are many Arab towns and villages that preserve the names of cities from the time of the Bible. This is a phenomenon that is very unique to Israel: Although this land was conquered so many times during history, and each conqueror wanted to leave his mark on the land, miraculously, many of the Biblical names still exist today. And they were preserved by the Arabs!

In the modern Biblical geography research, the Arab names play a crucial role as an evidence for the correctness of the Bible. There are hundreds of them and we will bring just a few examples.

The Border of Ephraim and Manasseh

The lot fell to the children of Joseph from the Jordan(1), by Jericho(2), to the waters of Jericho(2) on the east, to the wilderness that goes up from Jericho(2) through the mountains to Bethel(3), then went out from Bethel(3) to Luz(4), passed along to the border of the Archites at Ataroth(5), and went down westward to the boundary of the Japhletites, as far as the boundary of Lower Beth Horon(6) to Gezer(7); and it ended at the sea. (Joshua 16, 1-3)

The verses above describe the southern border of Ephraim (referred here as Joseph). Let’s look at each of the places marked with numbers 1 to 7 and see what is the Arab parallel:

  1. Jordan river. Hebrew – יָּרְדֵּן. In Arabic: Urdun (الأردن)
  2. Jericho. Hebrew – יְרִיחוֹ. The citi is called in Arabic: ‘ariha (أريحا )
  3. Bethel. Hebrew – בֵּית אֵל. The meaning of this name is “House of God”. “Beth” is house. Archaeologists identify the place with the Arab Village Biatin (بيتين). It is interesting to note that there was another “Bethel” in the inheritance of Ephraim, where Deborah would sit: And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim (Judges 4,  5).  There is an Arab village today called Beitillu (بيتللو) that is identified with this other Bethel.
  4. Luz. Hebrew – לוּז. This is the previous name of Bethel. Jacob changed its name: And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously (Genesis 28, 19). 
  5. Ataroth. Hebrew – עַטְרוֹת. An Arab village there is called: ‘Atara (عطارة)
  6. Lower Beth Horon. Hebrew – בֵּית חוֹרוֹן תַּחְתּוֹן. In Arabic: Beit Ur alttahta (بيت عور التحتى). “alttahta” in Arabic means “lower”. So the name of the village is literally “Lower Beth Ur”. The sound of Horon is close to Ur and the whole meaning is similar.
  7. Gezer. Hebrew – גזר. The hill (“Tel”) on which the ancient city was found, is called by the Arabs:  “Tel Jazar”. “Tel” is hill in both Hebrew and Arabic. Jazar and Gezer are similar as the ‘G’ in Hebrew is replaceable with ‘J’ in Arabic.

Based on the above we can now draw the border of Ephraim. Similarly we can draw most of the borders between the tribes.

 

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The Beloved Friend and the Judge

Even more fascinating than the above example, is the fact that some names were preserved not by their phonetic sound but by their meaning.

For example, the city of Jerusalem is called by the Arabs “Al-Quds” (القدس) which means “The Holy”. In the Arab books from the Middle Ages the city is often called “bayt almuqaddas” (بيت المقدس) which is translated to “The Temple”.

So Arabs in the Middle Ages acknowledged that Jerusalem is the place of the Jewish Temple!

But there was never any doubt about the identification of Jerusalem, as this is a city that Jews almost always inhabited.

Another one is Hebron. The Arabs calls it Al-Khalil (الْخَلِيل‎‎). And its meaning is “The beloved friend”. The beloved friend refers to Abraham as he is a friend of God and is buried in Hebron. It is interesting in this regard, that the word Hebron comes from the Hebrew root H.B.R. which means “friend”.

But the most surprising one is the city of Dan. Let’s read from the Bible:

And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born to Israel. However, the name of the city formerly was Laish (Judges 18, 29)

The archaeological site of Tel Dan is a hill (Tel) near the spring of Dan which is the biggest spring in Israel. very interesting stuff was found in the excavations there. The most important findings are the Canaanite gate, The massive Israelite wall and the Tel Dan Stele on which the House of David the king is mentioned.

But the name of the Tel in Arabic does not sound like Dan. It is “tal alqadi” ( تل القاضي).

Tal alqadi in Arabic means: The hill of the Judge. And who is the Judge? “Dan” is the name of the son of Jacob, and the tribe. But the meaning of the word Dan in Hebrew is “Judge”.

So we see here that the meaning of the name was translated to Arabic and this is the new name of the place.

 

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Tel Dan Stele

Summary

There are many more examples that include names of cities or mountains and valleys. Not all the examples are from the Bible. There are Arab names that preserve more recent names that appear first in the New Testament or in the Talmud.

What is important is that the local Arabs of Israel help us a lot in the research of Biblical Geography.