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THE CONDITION OF THINGS AT THE TIME OF CHRIST.


To summarise the state of things in connection with the Hebrew race at the time of Christ, it was briefly this:—

I. For some six centuries before, ever since the partial restoration in the days of Cyrus and his successors, the descendants of Abraham were no longer known as divided into tribes, but as one people, although up to the time of the destruction of the second Temple, tribal and family genealogies were for the most part preserved, especially among those who were settled in the land.

II. Part of the nation was in Palestine, but by far the larger number were scattered far and wide, and formed innumerable communities in many different lands, north and south, east and west.[1] But wherever dispersed and to whatever tribe they may have belonged, they all looked to Palestine and Jerusalem as their national centre, and, with the exception of those (and they were no doubt many) who had ceased to cherish "the hope of Israel" and were gradually assimilating with their Gentile neighbours, were all one in heart with their brethren in the Holy Land. "They felt they were of the same stock, stood on the same ground, cherished the same memories, grew up under the same institutions, and anticipated the same future. They had one common centre of worship in Jerusalem, which they upheld by their offerings; and they made pilgrimages thither annually in great numbers at the high festivals." Thus Philo could represent to the Roman Emperor Caligula that "Jerusalem ought not to be considered only as the metropolis of Judea, but as the centre of a nation dispersed in infinite places, who were able to supply him with potent succours for his defence. He reckoned among the places that were still stored with Jews, the isles of Cyprus and Candia, Egypt, Macedonia, and Bithynia, to which he added the empire of the Persians, and all the cities of the East, except that of Babylon, from whence they were then expelled."

There is ample confirmation on this point in the New Testament. Thus, for instance, we are incidentally told in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, that among the representatives from the Diaspora who were found in Jerusalem at that memorable feast of Pentecost—who were doubtless there also during the previous Passover, when the crucifixion took place—were "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and dwellers in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, in Phyrgia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and parts of Libya and Cyrene, and sojourners from Rome, Cretans and Arabians": all of them either Jews or proselytes miraculously hearing in their own tongues the mighty works of God.

Here it is to be noted that, at the commencement of the Christian era, we find in this motley and cosmopolitan Jewish crowd representatives from Israelitish settlements in the very parts where they were carried by the Assyrians and Babylonians some seven centuries before, but who are all called "Jews," and all alike regarded Jerusalem as their national metropolis.[2]

III. The name of "Jew" and "Israelite" became synonymous terms from about the time of the Captivity. It is one of the absurd fallacies of Anglo-Israelism to presuppose that the term "Jew" stands for a bodily descendant of "Judah." It stands for all those from among the sons of Jacob who acknowledged themselves, or were considered, subjects of the theocratic kingdom of Judah, which they expected to be established by the promised "Son of David"—the Lion of the tribe of Judah—whose reign is to extend not only over "all the tribes of the land," but also "from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth."

"That the name 'Jew,'" writes a Continental Bible scholar, "became general for all Israelites who were anxious to preserve their theocratic nationality, was the more natural, since the political independence of the Ten Tribes was destroyed." Yes, and without any hope of a restoration to a separate national existence. What hopes and promises they had were, as we have seen, linked with the Kingdom of Judah and the House of David.

Anglo-Israelism teaches that members of the Ten Tribes are never called "Jews," and that "Jews" are not "Israelites"; but both assertions are false. Who were they that came back to the land after the "Babylonian" exile? Anglo-Israelites say they were only the exiles from the southern kingdom of Judah, and call them "Jews." I have already shown this to be a fallacy, but I might add the significant fact that in the Book of Ezra this remnant is only called eight times by the name "Jews," and no less than forty times by the name "Israel." In the Book of Nehemiah they are called "Jews" eleven times, and "Israel" twenty-two times. As to those who remained behind in the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the Persian Empire, which included all the territories of ancient Assyria, Anglo-Israelites would say they were of the kingdom of "Israel"; but in the Book of Esther, where we get a vivid glimpse of them at a period subsequent to the partial restoration under Zerubbabel and Joshua, they are called forty-five times by the name "Jews," and not once by the name "Israel"!

In the New Testament the same people who are called "Jews" one hundred and seventy-four times are also called "Israel" no fewer than seventy-five times. Anglo-Israelism asserts that a "Jew" is only a descendant of Judah, and is not an "Israelite"; but Paul says more than once: "I am a man which am a Jew." Yet he says: "For I also am an Israelite." "Are they Israelites? so am I" (Acts xxi. 39; xxii. 3; Rom. xi. 1; 2 Cor. xi. 22; Phil. iii. 5).

Our Lord was of the House of David, and of the tribe of Judah after the flesh—"a Jew"; yet it says that it is of "Israel" that He came, who is "over all, God blessed for ever" (Rom. ix. 4, 5). Devout Anna was a "Jewess" in Jerusalem, yet she was "of the tribe of Aser." But enough on this point.

IV. From the time of the return of the first remnant after the Babylonian exile, sacred historians, prophets, apostles, and the Lord Himself, regarded the "Jews," whether in the land or in "Dispersion," as representatatives of "all Israel," and the only people in the line of the covenants and the promises which God made with the fathers.

At the dedication of the Temple, which was at last finished "on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year in the reign of Darius the king," they offered "for a sin-offering for all Israel, twelve he-goats according to the number of the tribes of Israel" (Ezra vi. 17).

Similarly, on the arrival of Ezra with the new caravan of immigrants, they "offered burnt-offerings unto the God of Israel, twelve bullocks for all Israel, . . . and twelve he-goats for sin-offering" (Ezra viii. 35), showing that the returned exiles regarded themselves as the nucleus and representatives of the whole nation. In the post-Exilic prophets we have no longer two kingdoms, but one people—one in interests and destiny, although they had formerly for a time been divided.

To show that the revived nation was made up of members of the Northern as well as the Southern kingdoms, the prophet Zechariah calls them by the comprehensive name of "Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem" (Zech. i. 19); or, "the house of Judah and the house of Joseph" (Zech. x. 6). In the prophecy occasioned by the question addressed by the deputation from Bethel, in reference to the continuation of the observance of the fasts, he says: "And it shall come to pass that as ye were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing; fear not, and let your hands be strong" (Zech. viii. 13).

Here the formerly two houses are included; together they are for a time among the nations "a curse," and together they shall be saved, and be "a blessing."[3] Malachi, nearly a century later, when the people in the land had become a prosperous nation, and when, in consequence, the majority was rapidly falling into a state of religious formality and godlessness, addresses them as "Israel" or "Jacob," which surely includes all his descendants, in contrast to Esau and his descendants (Mal. i. 1–3).


  1. Thus Strabo (quoted by Josephus in "Ant." xiv. 7, 2) could already say in his day that "these Jews had already gotten into all cities; and it is hard to find a place in the habitable earth that hath not admitted this race and is not mastered by it."
  2. "Everywhere we have distinct notices of these wanderers," says Dr. Edersheim, "and everywhere they appear as in closest connection with the Rabbinical hierarchy of Palestine. Thus the Mishnah, in an extremely curious section, tells how on Sabbaths the Jewesses of Arabia might wear their long veils, and those of India the kerchiefs round their head, customary in those countries, without incurring the guilt of desecrating the holy day by needlessly carrying what, in the eyes of the law, would be a burden; while in a rubric for the Day of Atonement we have it noted that the dress which the High Priest wore 'between the evenings' of the great feast—that is, as afternoon darkened into evening—was of most costly Indian stuff."
  3. Some have supposed that the 14th verse of Zechariah xi.—"And I cut asunder mine other (or 'second') staff, even Bands (or 'Binders'), to destroy the brotherhood between Judah and between Israel"—foreshadowed another division between the Ten Tribes and the Two Tribes subsequent to the partial restoration from Babylon, and after the coalescence of the people before and in the Exile—as a punishment for their rejection of their true Shepherd the Messiah, which is symbolically set forth in that chapter. But this is a mistake. The אַחֲוָה (achavah), "Brotherhood," which was to be destroyed "between Judah and between Israel," is not to be understood in the sense "that the unity of the nation would be broken up again in a manner similar to that in the days of Rehoboam, and that two hostile nations would be formed out of one people," although the disruption of national unity which took place in the days of Jeroboam may be referred to as an illustration of that which would occur again in a more serious form. "The schism of Jeroboam had a weakening and disintegrating effect on the nation of the Twelve Tribes, and the dissolution of the brotherhood here spoken of was to result in still greater evil and ruin; for Israel, deprived of the Good Shepherd, was to fall into the power of the 'foolish,' or 'evil,' shepherd, who is depicted at the close of the prophecy."

    The preposition בֵּין (bain), which is twice repeated, has the meaning not only of "between," but also of "among," and the formula, House of Judah and House of Israel, or simply, "Judah and Israel," is, as we have had again and again to notice, this prophet's inclusive designation of the whole ideally (and to a large extent already actually) reunited one people. I think, therefore, that we may rightly render the sentence "to destroy the brotherhood among Judah and among Israel"—that is to say, among the entire nation. The consequence of it would be the fulfilment of the threat in the 9th verse: "Let them which are left eat every one the flesh of another"—solemn and awful words, which had their first literal fulfilment in the party feuds and mutualy destructive strife, and in the terrible "dissolution of every bond of brotherhood and of our common nature, which made the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans a proverb for horror, and precipitated its destruction."