The Hebrews

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The story of the origin of the Rosh Hashana remains incomplete unless we know the history of the Hebrews. We come to know about the early Hebrews mainly from their own writings in the Old Testament, stories from the Bible, and excavations over the past century.

The Hebrews were descended from wandering tribes of Semites in the Near East. They were not at first one people, although their languages were very similar, and they did not all arrive in what was to become their land at the same time. The first tribe had been living in Mesopotamia at the end of the 3rd millennium B.C.
Then at around 1900 B.C. their lifestyle changed as they were led by Abraham, an experienced farmer, to move westwards in search of new land to settle down and start a strife-free living. It is believed that Abraham, a great devotee of Hashem, the lord of God, was even ready to sacrifice his own son when asked to do so. But later Hashem, who was testing his devotion, prevented him. Finally a ram was sacrificed in the place of his son.

After much wandering, the Hebrews under Abraham, settled near Hebron in lower Canaan. Before long other Semitic tribes joined them, or set up separate communities nearby. There these Semites, later called the Hebrews, continued their life.
But with the rough and dry climate Palestine proved to be unfit for living to the descendants of Abraham and his tribesmen. Some of the more enterprising Hebrews left the country and sought a new and more secure living in the fertile Nile Delta. The pharaohs there accepted them for their abilities and special skills.
Then in about 1750 B.C. Egypt was invaded by the Hyksos. These Semitic warriors were kinsmen of the Hebrews. Hebrews enjoyed some prosperity under the Hyksos.
But when Pharoah Ahmose I, finally expelled the Hyksos from Egypt, the Hebrews had to pay the price of their kinship. They were enslaved and had to spend their lives working on the enormous monuments and tombs that the pharaohs had erected for themselves. This bondage lasted some three hundred or more years.
In about 1250 B.C. a new religious leader, named Moses, emerged among the Hebrews in Egypt. This great man, of high intelligence and strong moral principles, determined to win a better life for his people. He organised a resistance campaign against their Egyptian masters. Concerned by this the Pharaoh, Rameses II, allowed Mosses to lead his people out of the country altogether. This movement back towards Canaan is called the Exodus. It was an event of vital significance in Hebrew history. Because it gave them the feeling of national unity for the first time.

Moses turned to the formulation of laws and the establishment of religious principles. The Biblical story of the laws of Moses is a simple one. The great leader presented the Ten Commandments dictated to him by God to the people in the Sinai desert. Over the centuries the Hebrews had developed and after Moses they continued to develop - a whole moral and practical code of living which they called the Torah.

The basis of this is found in the first five books of the Old Testament (i.e. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The Torah has similarities with the Code of Hamurabi, from which some of it is derived. What Moses did was to organize the compilation of these laws and principles as he found them and provide a background for his successors to improve upon.

As a result, for the next few centuries at all events, few Hebrew leaders of war or government were not also religious leaders. Many of them were prophets, as well, whose careers and sayings are preserved in the books of the Old Testament.

Moses, however, died before the Hebrews actually reached Canaan. When they did get there they split up into tribal communities, each retaining a sort of independence under the accepted laws. But it was not long before the Hebrew settlers ran into trouble with the other peoples who had already been living in Canaan for a long time. Among these were warlike cousins of the Phoenicians, the Philistines, who occupied a series of small towns along the coast Mount Carmel. Gradually they built up a chain of strong and beautiful cities, joined loosely by a sort of federation.
The Philistines ragarded the Hebrews as a dangerous threat to their security and the two peoples often went to war. It was Samson who led the Hebrews to score victory against the Philistines. After Samson's death it was Saul, an able statesman, under whom the Hebrews set up their first royal dynasty. Though not a good general, he did set the stage for a workable political organization which was successfully continued by his son-in-law David.

David was elected the King of the Hebrews in about 1010 B.C. A soldier, statesman, prophet and law-giver, he is best remembered from the Bible for his exploit in slaying the Philistine giant, Goliath, with a stone hurled from his sling. It has become an allegory for what must have been the real achievement of a defeat of the Philistines by a Hebrew army of much smaller size. He ruled for nearly 30 years and enlarged Hebrew territory. It was under him that a small town of Jerusalem was turned into the capital city of his kingdom. David was succeeded by his son Solomon after his death in 970 B.C. Solomon earned name in history for his rich and wisdom.

After Solomon's death the political unity of the Hebrews collapsed. And the kingdom was divided into two unequal and independent parts - Israel, the larger, in the north with Samaria as the capital, and Judah, the smaller, in the South, retaining Jerusalem.

Later Israel began to decline as the old habit of tribal quarrelling continued. In 721 B.C. Sargon II, king of Assyria, invaded Israel, captured Samaria, and deported the Israeli's leaders and most of the people to Mesopotamia, from which they did not return.

Meanwhile the smaller kingdom of Judah did not suffer the severe Assyrian domination. In 586 B.C. the Babylonian king Nebuchadnazzar II, invaded the country and captured Jerussalem. He destroyed much of Solomon's great temple and many other public buildings. after the destruction of the First Temple and the consequent exile, the glory of Israel was dashed to the ground.

It was during the rule of Cyrus the Great of Persia who conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. the Jews regained some powers. Then they rebuilt Solomon's temple and reconstructed the decaying city of Jerusalem. Thereafter the Jews lived more or less peacefully through self governance for five hundred years. Then in 70 B.C. when the Jews visited the Roman edicts, the emperor Vespasian's son Titus took Jerusalem. Following this the Jewish people dispersed and left their land to make a living as best they could in different countries throughout the world.
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