Jews, the name given since the exile in Babylon to the descendants of Abraham, who, about 2000 B. C., emigrated from east of the Euphrates to Canaan or Palestine. Their first name was Hebrews. Jacob settled with his family in Goshen, Egypt. Here the Hebrews remained 430 years. At first they were well-treated, but a new dynasty reduced them to cruel slavery. Moses led them from Egypt about 1320 B. C. The wandering in the wilderness of the Sinaitic peninsula seems to have lasted 40 years, the chief event of which was the giving of the law to the people through Moses. The “land of promise” became theirs under Joshua about 1274 B. C. Yet not all the natives were driven out, or even conquered, till long afterward. The fine grazing-lands east of the Jordan were given to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh; while the land west of the Jordan was parceled out to Judah, Simeon, Dan, Benjamin, Ephraim (the second half-tribe of Manasseh), Issachar, Zebulon, Naphtali and Asher. Levi received no province, but, instead, 48 cities and a tenth of the fruits of the field, and were allowed to settle wherever they chose.
After the death of Joshua (about 1254 B. C.), the bond between the tribes became loosened; each attended to its own affairs, and soon the tribes were singly conquered by the surrounding peoples. At this time arose brave men and women, known as “judges,” who freed the nation. This period is called the heroic age of Hebrew history. The greatest of 15 judges named were Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, the herculean Samson and Samuel. The first king was Saul the Benjamite (1067–55 B. C.), a warrior but not a statesman. He was succeeded by David his son-in-law (1055–15), the greatest king that ever sat on Israel’s throne. His reign and that of Solomon, his famous son, were the golden age of the Jews. The kingdom stretched as far as the Euphrates and the Red Sea. Jerusalem was captured and made the capital, and then was built the great temple. Trade was carried on with Phœnicia, Arabia, Egypt, India, Ceylon and, perhaps, Sumatra and Java. But the enormous expense of Solomon’s court beggared the nation, and his reign (1015–977) in many ways was a splendid failure. Jealousy against the supremacy of Judah (975 B. C.) caused a split into two nations, Judah under Rehoboam and Israel under Jeroboam. The first was made up of Judah and Benjamin, the latter of the other ten tribes. After 19 kings of different dynasties had reigned, the country was conquered by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, and the mass of the people were carried away captive (720 B. C.) to Media. What became of them has never been more than guessed at. Their place was taken by Assyrian colonists, and these, mingling and intermarrying with such Israelites as were left, formed the mixed people called the Samaritans. Among the 20 kings of the house of David who ruled over Judah, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Hezekiah and Josiah were able rulers and zealous for the worship of Jehovah. Other kings were more or less unfaithful to the religion of their fathers. Unable to withstand the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians, to each they in turn became tributary. At last, in 588 B. C., Nebuchadrezzar stormed Jerusalem and carried the richest of the people to Babylon. The exile lasted 70 years, if reckoned from 606, but only 50 years from the destruction of the city in 588, the exile ending when Cyrus the Medo-Persian captured Babylon in 538. Ezra the priest headed a second migration (c. B. C. 458) to Palestine in the reign of Artaxerxes I, and 13 years later came Nehemiah, under whom the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt.
The people of Jerusalem submitted to Alexander the Great in 332 B. C. Ptolemy Soter, king of Egypt, took Jerusalem in 301 B. C., and carried off 100,000 of the people, whom he settled mainly at Alexandria and at Cyrene. They soon spread over the whole country from Libya to Ethiopia. They had equal rights with the Egyptians, and became noted for their learning, making the famous Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint. Egypt ruled Palestine for one hundred years; then it fell into the hands of Syria, one of whose rulers, Artiochus, “the madman,” outraged the feelings of the Jews by making the temple a temple of Jupiter and forcing the people daily to sacrifice swine. The heroic family of Mattathias, the priest, rose in rebellion, and under his successors, the Maccabees, the Syrians were driven out, and the national council, the Sanhedrin, set up (145 B. C.). This Maccabean war of independence is Israel’s second heroic age. But a dispute over the throne between Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus brought in the Romans, and Jerusalem was captured by Pompey in 63 B. C. With Hyrcanus II ended the Hasmonean dynasty of the Maccabees. Through Caesar, Antipater the Idumean was made procurator of Judæa. Antipater was poisoned, but his brother, Herod, became procurator over Galilee and Judæa, entering Jerusalem in triumph in 37 B. C. After Herod’s death in 4 B. C. (the probable birth-year of Jesus) Judæa and Samaria were ruled for a time by his son, Archelaus, but he became fateful to the people, and was banished by Augustus emperor of Rome. Judæa was now made one province with Syria, and ruled by Roman governors. In 38 A. D. the emperor, Caligula, ordered that he should be worshiped by all his subjects. Everywhere the Jews refused to obey, and at Alexandria there was a frightful massacre. Herod’s grandson, Herod Agrippa, was given power over Palestine by Claudius, and obtained for the Jews the rights of Roman citizens, in 41 A. D. Roman governors succeeded him, under whom robbers and assassins overran the country; Jews and Samaritans waylaid and killed each other; and hatred of the Roman soldiery grew fiercer among the people. Finally the party of zealots, also called the assassins, rose in a rebellion in 66 A. D., which was ended, after a horrible massacre, by the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus (A. D. 70), the destruction of the temple and the killing or banishment of hundreds of thousands of the Jews, who were scattered throughout the world.
Since this dispersion of the nation its history has been a succession of cruel persecutions and massacres, with, at intervals, brief periods of good treatment, when some king or prince needed their services. Between the destruction of Jerusalem and modern times the Jews rose highest, and are seen at their best, under the Moors in Spain. In England the Jews did not gain most of their rights till the 19th century. They were not admitted to parliament till 1858, and no Jews sat in the house of lords till 1885. Jews were made French citizens by Napoleon in 1806. In Denmark the same right was given them in 1814. Norway forbade them to touch her soil till 1860. In Russia they have been forced to crowd into one district, known as the Pale, and have even been ordered out of that and out of the country (1892), a persecution which, coupled with famine and cholera, is not surpassed in horror by any in the dark ages. The Jews were given their full rights in Russia in 1848, though the feeling against them has never died out. They, of course, enjoy the fullest liberty in the United States. The Jews are distributed as follows: Russia, 3,400,000: Austro-Hungary, 1,700,000: United States, 1,777,185; Turkey, 60,000; Germany, 590,000; Rumania, 400,000; Morocco, 150,000; Great Britain, 100,000; Abyssinia, 120,000; Netherlands, 83,000; France, 49,000; Tripoli, 60,000; Tunis, 45,000; Algiers, 57,132; Italy, 38,000; Persia, 35,000; Egypt, 25,200; Bulgaria, 33,717; Turkestan and Afghanistan, 14,000; Switzerland, 8,069; the Transvaal, 10,000; Argentina, 6,735; Servia, 4,652; Denmark, 4,080; Belgium, 3,000; Greece, 5,000; Spain, 5,000; Sweden and Norway, 2,000; with scattered numbers in other parts of the world, making a total of 11,585,202.